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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Smiles Of A Summer Night: Criterion Collection
Smiles Of A Summer Night: Criterion Collection
Criterion // Unrated // May 25, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted June 1, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) does not strike one as a typical Bergman film. Gone is a majority of the "gloom and doom" one comes to expect from the masterful Swedish filmmaker, or the stark introspections and contemplations of mortality that are invoked when one thinks of a Bergman film. Instead, this 1955 film presents a chamber farce, a lusty and sensual comedic venture in which a handful of lovers and mistresses, husbands and wives, masters and servants, and fathers and sons converge over the course of a weekend, resulting in an enjoyable if inherently tragi-comic romp through turn-of-the-century Swedish sexual politics.

Frederik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a middle-aged well-to-do lawyer, whose two-year-old marriage to second wife Anne (Ulla Jacobsson) remains sweet, light, and thoroughly unconsummated - two years into their marriage, she is still a virgin. Frederik finds himself still drawn to longtime mistress Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck), an aging but quite beautiful actress whose smug exterior hides a certain dissatisfaction with Frederik's refusal to make their relationship legitimate. She is also carrying on an affair with Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), a haughty and quite possessive army officer whose face-to-face confrontation with Frederik (while wearing Carl's nightshirt and robe) is one of the film's most uproarious scenes. Carl is also married to Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist), a friend of Anne's who is quite aware of her husband's knavery. Frederik's young son Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam) is studying to enter the clergy, and his struggle between the strict tenets of his faith and his sinful urges isn't helped by Petra (Harriet Andersson), a lustful and scorchingly attractive housemaid whose temptations and teasing flirtations are pushing him towards the path of profane delights. There is a clear attraction between him and his step-mother, who are closer in age and in demeanor than she and his father.

Everything comes to a head when Desiree's mother (Naima Wifstrand) invites the entire gang for a weekend stay at her villa. Despite their initial polite mannerisms, truths and desires emerge and while certain "victories" seem to appear, many of them are Pyrrhic in nature. It isn't Bergman's desire to entertain us by showing us who (often predictably) ends up with who, but rather to delve into the repercussions such games entail. Who is the seducer, and the seduced? The male is obviously the one whose sexual dalliances are given something of a blind eye, so how come they are presented as those with the greatest weaknesses and limited choices? Bergman drapes these issues in a veil of light-hearted gaiety, and on the surface Smiles of a Summer Night can be taken for what it is, but one cannot avoid the darker, more contemplative elements that bubble to the surface. The film isn't inherently bipolar, and there aren't radical shifts in tone between the lighthearted and the despondent. It simply presents some dark truths immersed in a weekend of comic whimsy and lustful dalliances. A hard balancing act to maintain, but Bergman manages to skillfully pull it off.

The DVD

Video:

Smiles of a Summer Night is presented in its original fullframe aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The resulting black-and-white image is extremely pleasing, with fine sharpness levels and an agreeable amount of detail. Contrasts are remarkably consistent, with excellent grayscales and a significant amount of depth and range to the image. The print is fairly clean, with a smidgeon of artifacting and satisfactory levels of grain structure. There is some occasional wear noticeable on the print, but such occurrences are minimal. Overall this is a lovely transfer with a few nitpicks but nothing overtly detrimental.

Audio:

The audio is presented in monaural Dolby Digital 1.0. There's nothing much to report here; the soundtrack is pleasant and acceptable, delivering a presentation that is free from distortion, hiss, thinness or a clipped, "boxy" delivery that can haunt many older films. Given its age, Smiles of a Summer Night comes across quite well. Nothing spectacular, but quite satisfactory.

Extras:

The extras begin with Ingmar Bergman introduction, which runs nearly four minutes in length as the director discusses his reaction to the film and its surprise success. The seventeen-minute featurette entitled Peter Cowie and Jörn Donner is slightly meatier, as film historian (and Criterion Collection stalwart) Cowie and writer Donner discuss Bergman's 1955 breakthrough success and its reaction among world cinema audiences. Finally, the disc contains the film's original Swedish trailer.

Final Thoughts

Smiles of a Summer Night was a financial success for Bergman, especially fruitful given that his previous two films had bombed at the box-office. It also presented a new side of Bergman to audiences, one to which he would never quite return, but while it differs from what people expect out of the director it nonetheless remains a truly enriching film. While I personally do not think it reaches the heights of some of his more celebrated classics, Smiles of the Summer Night is a finely-crafted and enjoyable film that both Bergman fans and foreign film lovers will adore.

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