Smiles Of A Summer Night  [DVD] 
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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
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At a simplistic level, Bergman is giving us a 'battle of the sexes’, the fairer sex needing to resort to underhand machinations to get the better of the pompous, deluded male of the species, against a backdrop of widespread amorality. Gunnar Björnstrand is outstanding as the self-centred lawyer, Fredrik Egerman, torn between his rekindled feelings for his ex, Eva Dahlbeck’s equally nostalgic actress, Desiree Armfeldt, and his 'paternal affection’ for his young, unsullied wife, Ulla Jacobsson’s Anne, whilst his weak-willed, idealistic son Björn Bjelfvenstam’s Henrik aspires to the priesthood, whilst despairing at his world’s loose morals. Vying for Desiree’s affections is Jarl Kulle’s officious army officer, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, in open defiance of his feisty, resentful wife Margit Carlqvist’s Charlotte, and completing Bergman’s outstanding cast is the pairing of Harriet Andersson’s flirtatious maid, Petra, and Ake Fridell’s rustic servant Frid. Bergman plays off these two quartets of characters against one another, via a series of complex, predominantly sympathetic, character two-handers, whereby his more tragic themes around human frailty and longing are invariably undercut by moments of witty, often scathing, satire. An exemplar of this is the early stand-off between Fredrik, Desiree and the Count, the former two characters initially sharing wistful moments of what might have been, before the arrival of the latter, and the departure (comic farce-style) of Fredrik into the night, bedecked only in a nightgown.
The film’s final set-piece midsummer night dinner at Desiree’s mother’s (the excellent Naima Wifstrand) house is another cinematic pièce de résistance, during which Mrs Armfeldt’s mysterious ‘potion’ (wine) seemingly casts a spell over Bergman’s protagonists (across whose faces the director gives us a nice series of camera dissolves), before resolving the potentially tragic consequences in keeping with the film’s continuing sense of (good-natured) irony.
As an example of an ensemble satire, an obvious comparator film for me would be Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu and here Bergman does touch on class, as well as religion, the theatre and royalty, as a source for mockery. As a satire on the roles of the sexes, plus the film’s ornate period setting, I would opt for Max Ophuls, particularly La Ronde. Certainly, the designation of ‘comedy’ should not detract from Smiles Of A Summer Night’s status as another major Bergman work.
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!
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...
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house. Lots of bed hopping, betrayal, male macho posturing, and female
manipulation ensues.Read more
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