on 28 December 2002
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.
on 17 January 2002
I bought this as a whim some months ago and never got round to watching it until this month. It was worth the wait!
Ingmar Bergman always seems to conjure up images of gloomy, angst laiden movies that only Woody Allen and manic depressives would want to watch - but don't let reputation put you off. 'Smiles of a Summer Night' is delightfully funny and warmly humane. Bergman's script is full of sparkling humour and covers all the joy and pain of courtship, love and the constant, enjoyable battle between the sexes.
Women, Bergman seems to say, know much more than their male counterparts and understand their faults have to be accepted, compromises made for love. There are some beautiful lines of farce and wisdom that are delivered with a deftness of touch that seems lost from most comedies today. Pain is present also, as it should be, but always expressed with irony. The whole film is bitter sweet like the best dark chocolate, rich and tangy!
The DVD is very good - crisp picture and good sound. Watch out for the bed on wheels and the attempted suicide - young passion turned to absurdist farce effortlessly. I laughed out loud - and this is Bergman!
Fredrick Egerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is a forty-something lawyer of precise calculation, a bit of a dandy among the mercantile. He has a young wife Anne (the very pretty Ulla Jacobsson) whom he married when she was sixteen, but somehow never got around to unintacting her virgo. He has a sometime mistress Desirée Armfeldt (the voluptuous Eva Dahlbeck) from whom he has recently been estranged. He has a son Henrik (Bjorn Bjelvenstam) full of angst and love's confusion who lusts after the saucy maid Petra (a blonde Harriet Andersson) while he studies theology and his father's wife.
The night for Fredrick and Anne (after a Platonic nap during which Fredrick inadvertently pronounces Desirée's name) begins with the theater; and who should be starring in the production but Desirée. Anne suddenly takes ill and they rush home. Fredrick now steals away to see Desirée. After a pratfall in some water he ends up in some night clothes that belong to Desirée's current lover, the militaristic Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle as a sprung-steel bantam) who, as it happens, arrives upon the scene much to the merriment of Desirée and to the embarrassment of Fredrick.
The culmination of love's labors and intrigues takes place at the chateau of Desirée's mother, Mrs. Armfeldt (Naima Wifstrand). The action includes a most amusing duel, some hanky-panky atop a haystack, musical beds, an attempted suicide, some Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (if I caught the label right), the amorous kiss of young lovers, the triumph of the fairer sex, and the very proper lawyer's final humiliation.
If you haven't seen Smiles of a Summer Night you are in for a rare treat: a comedy by Ingmar Bergman. And it is no ordinary comedy. Shakespearean and Oscar Wilde-like in its sharp, satirical (and oh so worldly wise) dialogue, this playful romp with the Swedish landed gentry and servants of a hundred years ago is a delight that will satisfy the most sophisticated viewer as well as the most middlebrow.
Owing something to the French farcical tradition (in particular Molière), to light opera (maybe Mozart), and even the Greek theater, Bergman's romantic comedy sparkles with love's intrigues and pratfalls. According to Pauline Kael, whose review is part of a 24-page booklet that comes with the Criterion Collection DVD, Bergman had just finished directing a stage production of The Merry Widow which accounts in part for the fin-de-siècle setting and the genteel treatment that he finally settled upon for his comedy of manners. Also I think this examination and satire of the class structure with hilarious asides on the foibles of human nature owes something to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest which was set in approximately the same time period and had a similar cast of characters including a Grand Dame, an ingenue, some rustics, a clergyman, but most directly in the fact that both Wilde and Bergman aim their sardonic wit directly at the burghers and the bourgeois. Bohemians need not apply. Indeed the closest thing to a Bohemian in the play is the actress Desirée who is the very calculating and dominate personage of the film.
By the way, Bergman's future protege, Bibi Andersson, does appear in this movie, but only for a moment as an actress on stage at the theater.
The final, cynical bemusement comes as one reconsiders who ends up with whom. Not to spoil the plot, but notice that in every case there is something less than perfect in each romantic partnership, something slightly amiss that may cause problems down the road, something unsettled that suggests that nothing has really changed. As the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. It is this ironic underpinning to this delightful comedy that lends to it something of the timeless. Bergman is good at that.
on 17 April 2006
This was Bergman's international breakthrough film, which is somewhat ironic given how different it is from most of his uvre. Bergman is famous for making dark, brooding, philosophical films, but Smiles of a Summer Night is a romantic comedy, based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In fact, Bergman only made it because he needed to do a more commercial film to finance the projects he was really interested in. Despite being somewhat predictable (couples being serially unfaithful, concocting intricate plots to seduce the current object of their desire), the film is utterly charming with wonderful comedic performances from some of Bergman's favourite actors. This film is a perfect romantic comedy and, if nothing else, it is proof of Bergman's mastery of his art.
"Why is youth so terribly unmerciful and who has given it leave to be that way?"An uncomfortable question posed by Desiree's mother, nestles at the heart of this excellent cocktail of scenes, centred around love and the desire for it, and the mismatches and misunderstandings that ensue.This is a beautifully cast and written film,full of bon-mots and witticisms,cynical verve and youthful zest. This is one of the trio of masterly films in 1950s by Bergman-Smiles of a Summer's Night(`55),The Seventh Seal('56), and Wild Strawberries('57)-where Bergman established his international reputation, and complete creative freedom. From scene to scene, the film zips along as if in a Mozartian opera or grand waltz. Yet the cinematography shows every scene to be beautifully framed,as if they are pictures in a gallery.
The female characters, Desiree,her mother, Charlotte(the Count's wife),the maid Petra,seem to run proceedings as if they are ultimately pulling the strings of the male puppets, due to their innate wisdom about affairs of the heart. Egerman (Bornstadt),is a pompous lawyer, married to a too young wife ,Anne, still a virgin, 3 years after marriage. His son, a theology student, is secretly in love with his mother-in-law, Anne,and makes eyes at her.He also practises on Petra(Harriet Anderson) a perky,flirty,buxom maid, kissing her when he can. Egerman has lustful longings for his former mistress, Desiree, and meets up with her at the theatre, and later her home, which is
where she also sees her lover, the militaristic Count Malcolm. " Love is like a juggler,keeping aloft 3 spheres, heart,word and body",Desiree,the actress declares in a play. Egerman and the Count meet, Egerman dressed in the Count's gown and night clothes, due to falling comically in a puddle.The count makes him leave.
Desiree asks her mother to invite all the couples to a summer meal at her estate,so she can resolve a few things. Henrik, the son, is invited too. Desiree and Charlotte discuss a plan, by which Desiree can get Egerman back, by Charlotte seducing Egerman, and making the Count jealous. There are secret beds,attempted hangings, Russian Roulette,secret trysts in the garden,youthful kisses,elopements,magic wine with devastating effects, and lower- stairs love romps in the hay, while watching the `smiles of a summer's night'.Bergman was to sound out deeper themes later on, but he has never been better, more light hearted and frolicsome.
At present this 1955 Swedish morality tale (filmed in Black and White) is only available on BLU RAY in the States (including English subtitles). But therein lies a problem for UK and European buyers...
The US issue is REGION-A LOCKED - so it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK Blu Ray players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't).
Don't confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front - that won't help.
Until such time as "Smiles Of A Saturday Night" is given a Region B release by someone else - check your player has the capacity to play REGION A - before you buy the pricey Criterion issue...
on 3 August 2015
I am someone who has tried but not succeeded in liking Ingmar Bergman films. There are a few exceptions, Fanny and Alexander (one of my favourite films period!), Hour of the Wolf & The Magician. Odd choices but I do not class myself an intellectual who loves wordy foreign language films. Rather I am a film buff trying out the greats! Having watched seven of his films this was the hardest. I even prefer the Woody Allen remake, which is generally not well liked. All the others I've seen would get a generous rating because although I don't revel in them myself, I can see why people do. Hope my opinion doesn't cause offence.
on 21 February 2014
One of those productions where everything comes together in a perfect unity: concept, script, screenplay, camera work, direction, acting, editing all reach the highest level simultaneously. There are sequences of exquisite frames where brilliant dialogue is delivered with supreme professional competence. The theatrical atmosphere is sustained by the expert choices of costume and props. If you like your philosophy with humanity, your humanity with wit, and your wit with technical excellence, it would be hard to find a better film.
This DVD brings us the Master at work with amazing quality of sight and sound and well managed sub-titles.
on 20 July 2001
A Bergman comedy,is that possible?Yes,and one of his nicest efforts,too.The film structure is purely neo-classical,i.e. a well-balanced plot with a bunch of realistic characters,plus a very elegant setting.The themes that Bergman deals with here are clearly the same as the ones in his "dramas",or "psychological tragedies",whatever you choose to call them,like Persona or Wild Strawberries.Marriage,man-woman relationship,the subconscious mind and the like are all part of this film,but the director's view on his creatures is somehow different.You could compare "Smiles..." to a waltz,actually,where every character has to dance his/her way through the story. I would recommend you to see this film especially if you like the "more serious" Bergman,and would like to know more about him.
on 5 February 2005
As a Swedish person I found the film continuously slapstick doubled-over slap-my-thighs funny, while the Englishman who watched it with me kept a straight face and explained that the sense of humour was on the wry side. We both loved it though - cinematographically it's a feast, the casting and acting is top class, and the plotting is effortlessly genius. It's so well played and scripted that you could probably identify with more than one of the wildly varying characters. As opposed to the general view of Bergman, this film is easy on the brain, and other than reading subtitles, you don't have to make an effort to love it. I wish they still made movies like this.