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3.9 out of 5 stars
Smiles Of A Summer Night [1955] [DVD] [1995]
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 July 2017
To describe Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 exemplary exercise in film-making 'simply’ as a comedy is really to underestimate the extensive virtues of Smiles Of A Summer Night. That’s not say that the film isn’t funny – it is, in fact, it is frequently hilarious. The comedic elements of Bergman’s script, which seamlessly mix satire and elements of farce, would give a run for their money to the likes of Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Charles Lederer (His Girl Friday), etc. and no doubt the film’s qualities gave Bergman-fanatic, Woody Allen, palpitations (in his attempts to match it)! But, even though Smiles may lack the levels of profundity (and, certainly, the solemnity) of Bergman’s most lauded works, the film’s juxtaposition of tragedy and mockery, across a range of themes, is done so pitch-perfectly as to lend the film much poignancy, in the process contributing significantly to what is in toto a great spectacle in accessible entertainment. The film undoubtedly scores most highly by dint of Bergman’s screenplay, but its faultless cast, memorable black-and-white cinematography (beautifully evoking the turn of the 20th century period setting) by Gunnar Fischer and atmospheric score (mixing Erik Nordgren’s original composition with the likes of Mozart, Chopin and Schumann) perhaps understandably led noted critic Pauline Kael to equate the film to something nearing perfection.

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.
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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...
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VINE VOICEon 15 July 2009
"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.
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on 23 January 2006
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.
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on 13 November 2015
i have not bought this
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on 10 March 2010
Another Swedish film destined to be reinterpreted by Woody Allen for an audience disinclined to reading subtitles. For once I don't think Bergman has it all his own way.

Looking back to Cosi Fan Tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro, Bergman's 'Smiles...' is about romantic cross-wires and misjudgements of the heart destined to reach their conclusion at a weekend party in a fine country setting. Like all true comedy, the moral outlook and eventual outcome are rather pessimistic, and the scene where the young wives of the lawyer and soldier discuss their partners' behaviour perfectly captures the bleak aspect of love. This is a clever farce, never descending into the ludicrous, but once or twice just a tad stagey.

I love the way Bergman was able to reuse many of the same actors in radically different roles. Woody Allen, a great Bergman admirer, also employed favourite collaborators again and again, and if his take on this particular Bergman film, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy [DVD] [1982] is superficial by comparison, it is no less charming; in fact, it is probably funnier and more visually beautiful as regards the scenery and music. Allen's view of love, both romantic and marital, is more optimistic than Bergman's, so that I for one was a little surprised by the resolution of the Swedish film, having anticipated a different result. Bergman is more convincing at recreating a fin de siecle environment than Allen, whose actors all come across as modern New Yorkers, but this doesn't detract from the movie's pleasure.

To sum up then, both films are strongly recommended, with Bergman as indebted to the world of opera as Allen is to Bergman. 'Smiles...' may be the richer fare, but Allen's 'Midsummer...' is one to return to again and again.

Lusty comedies.
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on 5 May 2009
I've already reviewed this purchase once, so my comment now is; why am I being asked to review it a second time?

My original review was along the lines of: DVD for present so cannot review the film. Sales, service and delivery all excellent, but packaging was intentionally openable to enable Royal Mail to check contents - but this allowed them to also see the invoice and therefore personal details - not good!
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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.
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on 18 March 2018
It's an interesting movie which I can never make up my mind about. However I'm glad to have a copy, and I enjoy its unusual qualities as a film. The DVD works perfectly.
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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.
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