This was director Ingmar Bergman's break-through film, the winner of the 1956 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, the first of his many internationally acclaimed films. The story is a time honored one, referrencing the same tradition of romantic complications found in Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and Rostand's LA RONDE: every one is either in love with or married to the wrong person.
A famous actress with two very different lovers invites both, their wives, and the son of one lover to her mother's country estate in the hope of sorting out the romantic entanglements to her satisfaction--and the result is considerable charm and unexpectedly dry wit. All the performances are excellent, with Eva Dahlbeck's Desiree a standout, but the real star of this ensemble piece is the unexpectedly witty script. Never quite veering over into broad farce but never sinking into romantic sentimentality, it is a very precisely written tale, and both cast and director make the most of it.
In the face of Bergman's later work, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT may seem rather slight, and indeed both psychology and cinematography is considerably less complex than one expects. Even so, it is very much a Bergman film: the visual style is distinct, and the themes of appearances vs. reality, the inability to correctly interpret another's behavior, and the failure to understand one's self are very much in evidence--only here to comic effect. It is in every way a charming film that Bergman fans will enjoy.
Incidently, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT was successfully translated to the stage as the musical A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, the score of which includes the famous "Send In The Clowns." Fans of the original film will be interested to compare the two works.