Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Ulla Jacobson, Eva Dahlbeck, Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand
“To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides”
The films of Ingmar Bergman’s are synonymous with the words guilt, sadness and depression. But comedy? Or love? With his film Smiles of a Summer Night, Bergman revealed to film fans in 1955 that he could create a great romantic comedy. Smiles of a Summer Night won a jury prize at Cannes in 1956. Based on the success of this film, he was given the opportunity to make The Seventh Seal, the film for which he would receive world recognition. Criterion has made this classic film available on DVD.
Smiles of a Summer Night is set at the turn of the century in Sweden. The film opens as a lawyer, Fredrik Egerman, played by Gunnar Bjornstrand has recently married a much younger woman named Anna, played by Ulla Jacobson. They are busy making plans to attend the theater that night for a performance by the famous actress Desiree Armfeldt, portrayed by Eva Dahlbeck. During a nap before the performance, Fredrik reaches for Anna in his sleep and as he is softly kissing her, whispers the name Desiree several times. Anna is understandably very concerned. It is soon reveled that Desiree and Fredrik share a long lasting although troubled romantic history. Desiree also has a young son and refuses to confirm with Fredrik if he is the father. During the performance, Anna becomes emotionally overwhelmed by seeing Desiree in person and they leave the performance early.
Fredrik’s older son Henrik, played by Bjorn Bjelvenstam, is living with Fredrik and Anna is having difficulties of his own. Henrik is studying to join the clergy but is constantly tempted by Fredrik and Anna’s comely maid Petra, played by Harriet Andersson. Petra goes to great lengths to tempt Henrik with her flirtatious ways.
Enter into the picture Anna’s friend Charlotte, played by Margrit Carlqvist and her husband Carl-Magnus Malcolm, played by Jarl Kulle. Carl is a power-mad military man with a vicious jealous streak that is triggered by someone trying to spend time with his mistress. The mistress just so happens to be the famous actress Desiree. As you can imagine, Carl is not too happy with Fredrik and his continued relationship with Desiree.
Smiles of a Summer Night is a comedy of manners, morality and sex. From the entangled relationships between the main characters I have described, plus a few more I haven’t revealed, the characters in the film find themselves in numerous humorous and delicate situations. Have I mentioned that there is a mechanical bed in this film? Trust me, you haven’t seen a bed like this in any other film and it is used in this film brilliantly.
The dialog in this film is very witty and delivered perfectly by all main actors. The style of the dialog and the comedic style would be comparable to in a literary manner to Oscar Wilde or cinematically to Howard Hawks film His Girl Friday. The dialogue is somewhat fast paced and always clever. The crisp black and white cinematography in Smiles of a Summer Night is absolutely beautiful and Bergman’s direction is sure handed and energetic.
Although I would still classify this film as a comedy, it is not without a dark side. It wouldn’t be a Bergman film without some dark clouds on the horizon. The outbursts of anger and the seething angst of the Henrik character and the fact that several characters are motivated by jealousy and vengeance are the main reasons for the undercurrent of darkness that flows below the glowing summer sun in this film. Also, as the film comes to an end the audience has a feeling that the happiness that some of the characters are experiencing might be as brief as a summer’s day.
Smiles of a Summer Night would be an interesting way for a person to be introduced to Bergman’s work if he or she were unfamiliar. It is the illustration cinematically of the quote by William Cullen Bryant “Pleasantly, between the pelting showers, the sunshine gushes down”.
Smiles of a Summer Night is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The black and white film is presented with great contrast and deep blacks and crisp whites. The overall look is very sharp and detailed. A beautiful presentation of this classic film.
Smiles of a Summer Night is presented in its original mono audio in Swedish with optional English subtitles. I did not notice any instances of hiss, crackle or distortion at any point in the film. Overall, a first-rate presentation of this classic Bergman film.
The Bonus Features
Smiles of A Summer Night has a few bonus features but what is present is significant.
There is an introduction to the film by Ingmar Bergman that is presented in an interesting way. Bergman talks with an interviewer about the film and his intentions with the film. At the end of the interview, he calls out to a projectionist in the theater to start the film.
There is a conversation between Swedish writer Jorn Donner and Criterion film expert Peter Cowie, who collaborated with Bergman on his film Fanny and Alexander. The conversation between Donner and Cowie was filmed in Stockholm in 2003. They share an energetic and informative dialogue about the importance of Smiles of A Summer Night in the filmography of Bergman. The conversation is accompanied by short biographies of theparticipants. The interview is extensive and is divided into five chapters.
There is the expected theatrical trailer and a very nice 24 page booklet that has the original review of the film by legendary film critic Pauline Kael and a newly created essay by film critic John Simon discussing the film.
Although the DVD is light on extras, the few that are present are very good. All things considered a great presentation of this classic film by Ingmar Bergman.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 9/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 8/10
The Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10