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The Criterion Collection presents
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

Anne: Nearly everything that is fun is not virtuous.Petra: If so, hurrah for vice.
- Ulla Jacobson, Harriet Andersson

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: May 25, 2004

Stars: Ulla Jacobson, Eva Dahlbeck, Harriet Andersson, Margit Carlqvist, Gunnar Björnstrand, Jarl Kulle, Björn Bjelvenstam
Other Stars: Ake Fridell, Naima Wifstrand, Jullan Kindahl, Gull Natorp, Bibi Andersson, Birgitta Valberg
Director: Ingmar Bergman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, some sensuality and suggestive dialogue)
Run Time: 01h:48m:00s
Release Date: May 25, 2004
UPC: 037429193921
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+B C+

DVD Review

Bergman and darkness. Bergman and light. Bergman and virtue. Bergman and vice. Bergman and...comedy? Indeed, the work of Ingmar Bergman is historically characterized as subjective, Sartresque explorations of humanity's fall from grace through feelings of depression, guilt, and sorrow. His films are not the most uplifting works produced, but they certainly reveal and comment on very important, life-altering issues. What is our purpose in a world that sees suffering as common? How can a good God produce such a place? What seems to be an unanswerable question is ultimately met by a valediction throughout many of Bergman's influential films.

With Smiles of a Summer Night, Bergman burst onto the international scene, much to his surprise—Svensk Filmindustri submitted his film to Cannes without his knowledge. It was met with universal acclaim, bringing the accomplished stage director into the limelight. (However, many film scholars still consider The Seventh Seal to be his true breakout, after which many looked back to his previous films, among them, this one.) Here was a Bergman work that, on the surface, looked to be a completely different side of the usually darkly-themed director. Indeed, this is a somewhat straightforward romantic comedy, but beneath the veneer of entertainment lies his trademark themes and his skilled direction.

In turn-of-the-century Sweden, Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand), a local lawyer, takes his second bride, the beautiful 19-year old Anne (Ulla Jacobson), to the theater to see the famous Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck). Egerman, who looks a bit like the Mirror-universe Leonard Nimoy, has a peppered past, earning the reputation of being a ladies' man. Indeed, the actress was Fredrik's former lover, and again, he is drawn back to her. Fredrik and Desiree have an endearing, yet bitter relationship, but Fredrik feels she is the only woman with whom he can share his innermost concerns. Feeling unconfident about his new marriage, Fredrik enlists Desiree's aid, hoping she will provide him reconnaissance regarding his wife's true feelings.

Desiree is not alone, though. A macho, power-hungry, jealous military man, Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), is her current lover, and does not take kindly to visitors. Malcolm is comfortable with his wife, but passionate about his lover. He and his wife have an amicable relationship, both knowing full well of their unfaithful activities, but are seemingly unconcerned. Malcolm is convinced he is master of all he surveys, including the women that surround him. When he feels threatened by another suitor, he becomes a "tiger," expressed through casual, indoor revolver practice.

Fredrik's son, Henrik (Björn Bjelvenstam), the moral center of the film, is experiencing some frustrations of his own. He is studying to join the clergy, but is constantly wrestling with his own carnal desires, immersing himself in guilt, depression, and even feelings of suicide. He despises the vice of his surroundings, enduring criticisms from his own father regarding his lack of female conquests. On top of it all, he is taunted by the maid, Petra (Harriett Andersson), whose "tartly" nature revels in tormenting the virtuous youngster. Though an epiphany of sorts, his true love is later revealed via one of the most unique mechanical beds I have ever seen. Yes, I did say mechanical bed.

Throughout the film, each of these characters are placed in different situations and combinations, testing their viability with one another. This shell game culminates in the obligatory weekend in the country, during which everyone is united, and mayhem ensues. When the dust settles, relationships are forged, feelings revealed, and a sense of renewal, reached.

By now you're wondering how this is a comedy, right? Indeed. It is a witty, fun romp that comically explores the haphazard wranglings and romantic entanglements of a group of wealthy, somewhat upstanding citizens. These well-to-do characters are seeking what they think is happiness, but end up creating hell. Certainly, this is no validation of adultery, though it may seem to treat it as commonplace. This is an odd combination that can feel lopsided at times: dialogue-driven, situational comedy combined with serious biddings for contentment make for a comedy that is anything but run-of-the-mill. Despite the surface of Oscar Wilde-like quips, the core of the film is quite dark, fully manifested in the introspective sulking of Henrik. In fact, much of the film relies on feelings of vengeance, lust, jealousy, and machismo, creating an atmosphere that made me wonder if I should be laughing or crying. After all the trouble, these characters seem to find some measure of peace, though I fear it is short lived.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion's black-and-white transfer is luminous, showcasing good contrast with solid blacks. Grain and print damage are quite minimal, though some does appear now and then. Longer shots can lose detail, but overall, the image is quite sharp, containing a good level of detail. Not quite as impressive as some of Criterion's other releases, but beautiful nonetheless.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The monaural audio exhibits clear dialogue and music, and is devoid of excessive hiss, crackles, pops and distortion. A fine restoration that serves the film well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Being at Criterion's lower price-point, Smiles of a Summer Night is somewhat light on extras, but what is included is worthwhile. There is a brief introduction to the film by Ingmar Bergman himself (03m:51s), recorded last year for Swedish television. Bergman talks with an interviewer before calling out to the projection booth to start the film. A nice primer.

The most substantial extra is a conversation between Criterion regular Peter Cowie and writer Jörn Donner (16m:48s), who worked with Bergman on Fanny and Alexander. Recorded in Stockholm in 2003, the two discuss the film's place in the Bergman canon. The interview is broken into five chapters, and is accompanied by brief bios for both Cowie and Donner.

Along with the Swedish theatrical trailer, we are treated to a hefty 24-page booklet that is beautifully laid out, containing Pauline Kael's review of the film, and a new essay by theater and film critic John Simon.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Bergman's comedic farce is certainly a departure for the director, but does not stray too far from his themes of loss and salvation. Though the film can feel a bit unbalanced, sharp dialogue, interesting situations, and solid performances make this worth seeing. Criterion's effort is strong, as always, though light on the extras. Don't just trust me on that mechanical bed...you have to see it to believe it.


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