Reviews and notes
Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night
boasts a sturdy group of technical workers, a uniformly brilliant cast, a perpetually witty and nuanced script, and above all else, smart, clear-sighted direction from Bergman, but there’s also an essential madness to it. Even in its unerring philosophical insights into sexuality, romance, and male and female psychology, the film’s humor and deep warmth are only fully palpable due to the sublime lunacy that runs underneath it all, erupting in passages of lustful exuberance. In telling the tale of mismatched lovers left to their own devices on a two-day trip during Sweden’s brief summer cycle, Bergman imbues the material with a personal confliction between his darker, more dreary existential proclivities and the earthy, gregarious humility that he yearns to fully embrace: a simple life full of simple pleasures. It’s a side of Bergman that we normally only got in bits and pieces, but what was on display in Smiles of a Summer Night
maintains a striking vitality that remains undiminished well over 50 years after the film won at Cannes and single-handedly secured Bergman’s funding for The Seventh Seal
- Chris Cabin, Slant Magazine, 7 May 2011.
The eight main characters resolve themselves in the course of the film, with what is felt as a perfect appropriateness, into four couples: Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand) and his mistress (Eva Dahlbeck); Henrik (Bjorn Bjelvenstam) and his father's young second wife (Ulla Jacobsson); Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle) and his own wife (the remarkable Margit Carlquist – sadly, almost her only appearance in a Bergman film); the maid Petra (Harriet Andersson) and the coachman Frid (Ake Fridell). None is exempt from the pervasive irony; on the other hand, none is treated without sympathy. Count Malcolm gets rather less than anyone else: he anticipates Don Juan in The Devil's Eye
(played by the same actor), except that he is a Don Juan who hasn't yet recognized his own emptiness. The complex interaction of the characters in the course of the intrigue makes the film a continually shifting kaleidoscope in which different relationships and attitudes to love become juxtaposed, to be compared and evaluated.
Balance, then, is the keynote of the film: the balancing of irony and sympathy, the balancing of different attitudes. The period setting increases the total effect of a formally conceived summation, enabling Bergman to achieve a stylised, patterned quality. It seems clear that part of the inspiration came from Mozart opera. The formalised effect of the film reminds one at times of Mozart's ensembles. At one point Bergman has Gunnar Björnstrand hum a few bars of La ci darem la mano
, the Zerlina/Don Giovanni duet. (The effect is ironic: Egerman, caught in absurd night attire in the rooms of his ex-mistress by her present lover, is in a thoroughly ignominious position which his attempt at a careless composure via the great seducer's love music merely underlines.) But it is the parallels with The Marriage of Figaro
and The Magic Flute
that are most striking. The overall construction in terms of a complicated love-intrigue in which upper-class characters and their servants are involved and in which different sorts of love are juxtaposed offers a general likeness to Figaro
In both works there is a philandering yet insanely jealous Count and a Countess who wants her husband to herself. But it is the actress, played by Eva Dahlbeck, who most resembles Mozart's Countess (both are anxious about advancing years, and feel the need for emotional security), and she takes the role of a Countess in the play Egerman takes Anne to near the beginning of the film. Henrik is like Cherubino in his tendency to be attracted to every girl he comes in contact with. Petra in some ways resembles Suzanna. As in Figaro
, the last 'act' moves out closer to the world of nature (the pavilion in the garden) for the resolution of the intrigue and the final sorting into couples. Petra's Frid is not much like Figaro, but he is rather like Papageno from The Magic Flute
(an opera Bergman said recently that he has long wanted to produce, and which plays a prominent part in Hour of the Wolf
). The servant-lovers are separated much more from their social superiors than in Figaro
; the paralleling of a comparatively serious love story with a comic, earthy one is more reminiscent of The Magic Flute
. Towards the end of the opera Papageno, apparently unable to obtain his Papagena, tries to hang himself; he is prevented by the Three Boys (part of the opera's supernatural machinery), who tell him to play his set of chimes; when he does so, Papagena is given to him. In Smiles
, Henrik, confronted with the apparent impossibility of his love for Anne, tries to hang himself in his bedroom. He falls, and grabs at an ornamental knob to save himself; by an apparent miracle (though the mechanism has been explained to the audience earlier) the wall slides open and, to the accompaniment of musical-box chimes culminating in a comic little fanfare by ornamental cherubs, a bed glides through from the next room with his beautiful young stepmother asleep in it. The parallel is at once too free to constitute a 'borrowing' (Henrik as a character is utterly unlike Papageno) and too close to be coincidental.
More important than such incidental echoes is the Mozartian emotional complexity of much of the comedy: that delicate and flexible movement to and fro between humour and pathos, between different shades of emotion, that is supremely characteristic of Mozart's music. Examples abound in Smiles
: one of the most striking is the transition from bitter comedy to near-tragedy and out again to farce at the pavilion climax. Count Malcolm challenges Egerman to Russian Roulette to settle their love disputes once and for all. Egerman's cowardice is both funny and disturbing; Malcolm's unruffled aplomb funny and cruel. It reaches the point where the next shot must almost certainly release the single bullet. It is Egerman's turn. He presses the gun to his temple and hesitates; we are ready for some twist or reversal to resolve the tension into comedy. Abruptly, Malcolm reminds him quietly that Anne has run away with Henrik. In one of the most poignant moments in any Bergman film we see all desire to live drain from Egerman's face, and his finger squeezes the trigger. Cut to long-shot, from outside. The shot shatters the silence, the women run to the pavilion. The film has astonishingly turned to tragedy. They open the pavilion door. Malcolm is roaring with laughter, Egerman is sitting upright in an absurd attempt at preserving his dignity, his face blackened. The bullet was a blank.
The earlier scene of Anne and Henrik's elopement offers a parallel between Bergman's mise-en-scene
and Mozart's ensembles, where different characters express contrasting emotions and attitudes simultaneously. The young lovers, filled with a sense of joyous release, ride off wildly in a carriage. Frid and Petra help them: their presence adds the sort of extra emotional dimension to the scene that the presence of, say, Zerlina, Masetto and Leporello adds to the Don Giovanni sextet. From the shadows, meanwhile, unseen by the others, Egerman watches, deeply hurt yet not feeling he has the right to stop them. Bergman makes us share his despair and the lovers' joy simultaneously, maintaining very precisely the balance of sympathies on which so much of the film's complexity of effect depends. The complexity can be localised in the detail of Anne's veil, blown back by the wind as the lovers ride off, to fall at Egerman's feet: it is the token at once of Anne's release (the casting off of virginity) and his own failure (the long-unconsummated marriage).
This much said, it must be added that Bergman isn't Mozart. Smiles
makes use of the formalised effect of Mozartian opera and captures a similar emotional complexity. It is quite different in flavour, the astringent bitterness that relates the film to Journey into Autumn
and even Sawdust and Tinsel
being quite alien to Mozart. One sees the difference most readily by placing the film beside what is perhaps the most truly Mozartian film ever made, Renoir's La Regle du Jeu
, which has not only the Mozartian charity and generosity but the seemingly effortless flow of spontaneous invention that is another aspect of the same basic human gift. Beside it, the effects in Smiles
look calculated. Though this implies to some extent a limiting judgment, I mean it more as definition than as criticism. With its own individual and complex flavour, the astringency balanced and modified by qualities of warmth, tenderness and charm, Smiles of a Summer Night
remains one of Bergman's perfect films.
- Robin Wood, Ingar Bergman, Studio Vista 1969.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p high-definition digital created on a Spirit Datacine from a new 35mm print made from the original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction. Aside from a few inherited shaky frame transitions, the high-definition transfer is indeed very pleasing. Fine object detail is consistently strong, especially during close-ups, while contrast levels are dramatically improved. Also, selected noise corrections have been performed but the integrity of the film has been preserved. Naturally, the film has a slightly dated but certainly very pleasing organic look.
The monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integratd workstation. Understandably, the Swedish LPCM 1.0 track has a limited dynamic amplitude. The dialog, however, is crisp, clean, stable, and very easy to follow. There are no distortions either.
- adapted from Blu-ray.com, 3 May 2011.
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