Ingmar Bergman's romantic comedy of manners focuses on a group of couples, ex-couples and would-be couples during a midsummer weekend in 1900. During the course of the weekend a game of love ensues between the players as three couples meet, separate and exchange partners.
The film which established its Swedish writer/director on the stage of world cinema, 1956's Smiles of a Summer Night
is what some people would consider a contradiction in terms--an Ingmar Bergman comedy. Set in the 19th century, Smiles
features Bergman stalwart Gunner Bjornstrand as Fredrik, a lawyer yet to consummate his marriage to his young wife Anne. He has hankerings after a former mistress, the voluptuous actress Desiree, who is now mistress to the bellicose Count Malcolm, whose own wife attempts to seduce Fredrik in order to make Malcolm jealous. Fredrik's wife, meanwhile, hankers after her own stepson, an austere young man confused by his repressed sexual longings. This web of romantic intrigue is eventually disentangled at a weekend party held by Desiree's mother, a formidably acerbic, fairy godmother-style figure.
Smiles of a Summer Night is sparkling but mordant, stronger on absurdism than belly laughs and it is lent shade by the long shadows of existential angst. It conveys all of Bergman's core messages about human relationships but in a light, operatic bundle of cinematic joy.
On the DVD: Presented in the original academy ratio, the film is restored here to its original, silvery glory. There are extensive notes from Bergman's memoirs, in which he talks candidly about the near-suicidal depression he was in when he wrote this ironically light script, as well as additional notes from critic Derek Malcolm, who aptly compares the film to a Mozart opera and Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game. --David Stubbs