Dr. Isak Borg travels to receive a degree for having worked as a doctor for 50 years. Considering his age he shouldn't really be driving but he insists. With him he brings his daughter-in-law Marianne, even though they don't like each other. On the trip they meet three young hitchhikers and many others!
It's always interesting seeing two creative forces get together to create something. Reminds me a bit of what Andrei Tarkovsky did with Bergman's crew in his only Swedish and final film "Offret" ("The Sacrifice"), which ended up being a technical masterpiece (c'mon, that ending sequence is fucking cumtastic!"). What I'm getting at here is that Victor Sjöström is the lead actor in this movie. Two of Sweden's most important filmmakers working on one movie together, that's something! Ingmar Bergman had great respect for Victor Sjöström and hailed his "Körkarlen" ("The Phantom Carriage") as one of the best films, and one he watched at least once every summer. So I know he was as excited to have Victor Sjöström in this movie as I was.
The story isn't too far from "A Christmas Carol" or "Körkarlen", actually. The story is about Dr. Isak Borg who is about to receive a honorary doctorate for having worked in medicine for 50 years. The movie is more specifically about his travel to get it. With him he has his daughter-in-law Marianne, and on the way he meets several different people, of different beliefs and religions. But most importantly, he visits some places that were important to his childhood and remembers the best and worst of his life. So basicly it's about an old man coming to terms with who he really is, and understands that he hasn't been the greatest man.
You've probably seen lots of films with similar plots. It's cliché in many ways, but it's so delicate and personal that it doesn't matter. Bergman and Sjöström manage to make a movie that actually will get you to think about your own life. That's more than most of these films have done to me, to be honest. Victor Sjöström is perfect as the old Isak and if it wasn't for him the movie would've been slightly less charming and slightly less emotional. I believe Ingmar Bergman agreed that it seemed like Sjöström took his character outline and put his own soul and memories into it. A fantastic portrayal of an old man with regrets.
Whether you care for Ingmar Bergman or not is your business, I won't force this movie on you. I know it's a provocative thing to say, but it requires a sort of maturity to enjoy a film like this. I'm not claming to be very mature as I have just reviewed a Bergman film and referred to something as "fucking cumtastic", but I do believe I have what it takes to enjoy a movie like this. If you do have an interest in Bergman or slow, nice films, then "Smultronstället" is a great movie. It might not be the Bergman's biggest achievement technically but it's a great, personal, nice and touching story.