"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

October 29, 2011

"Smiles of a Summer Night" (1955) by Ingmar Bergman (Film review)

Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommernattens leende) is a comedy made in 1955 by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It was his first international success. The film is a costume drama set around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

This romantic comedy of errors brings on the following characters:
- Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand), a middle-aged lawyer, married for the second time after the death of his first wife;
- Anne, his young wife (Ulla Jacobsson), in fact a mismatch with the much older man (Fontane's Effi Briest comes to mind - see my post about this novel), who refuses to consummate the marriage and is rather unhappy;
- Henrik (Björn Bjelvenstam), Egerman's son from his first marriage, who is studying theology, but more interested in the immediate charms of the maid Petra than in the rewards of Heaven - and to further complicate things, Petra is meant as a substitute for his impossible love for his "mother" Anne;
- Desiree Armfeldt, a middle-aged actress (Eva Dahlbeck) and a smart and strong woman, who once had an affair with Egerman - and they still harbor tender feelings for each other;
- Desiree's mother, a retired courtesan living in a huge country house where all characters are invited in the second half of the film to celebrate the long summer night;
- Count Malcolm, a rather aggressive and cocky military man, the present lover of Desiree, but one who is about to get the boot;
- His wife Charlotte, a friend of Anne, who wants her husband to desist from his amorous expeditions and come back to her;
- Petra (Harriet Andersson), the bosomy maid of the Egermans;
- Frid, the groom of the elderly Mrs Armfeldt.

This list of characters already suggests what the story is like, I don't think I have to add anything to that!

Although this is a comedy, it is no light screwball affair and all characters are fully rounded out as realistic human beings. It is also a film rather heavy with dialogue - after all, Bergman originally was a script writer and director for the theater - and there is also a certain Protestant "squareness." But in the end, after various trysts and follies on the long night of the summer solstice, all find their proper mates - setting right the obvious imbalance in the life of Fredrik Egerman.
Smiles of a Summer Night is available in the Criterion Collection.
(Revised August 2014)