Smiles of a Summer Night
Release Date(s)1955 (May 3, 2011)
Studio(s)AB Svensk Filmindustri (Criterion - Spine #237)
Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) has been described as a tragic comedy and that’s a pretty fair way to categorize it. It’s certainly not funny in a ha-ha kind of way, although it does invoke the odd chuckle or two at least in the early going. Four women in turn-of-the-century Sweden finds themselves at a country estate intent on clarifying their love lives with four men who have varying degrees of interest in one or more of them. The relationships are sharply observed and the audience is initially kept entertained by various flirtatious propositions on both sides. The women are clearly in control while the men seem mere pawns, and pathetic ones at times.
This type of film was a departure for Bergman from his more heavy-handed dramas, and one that seemed to stem from events in Bergman’s personal life. But even with a comedy, Bergman cannot get away entirely from the idea of the humiliation of men, a not-infrequent motif in his work. Here at least he tempers it somewhat with a little well-placed humiliation of women too. Despite the efforts to open things up with exteriors of the country estate, the film retains an air of theatricality throughout. That air is reinforced by the aspects of farce, comedy of manners, and even a little slapstick that continually make themselves felt. The peripatetic combination of different comic styles mixed with drama makes for a film that’s ambitious but ultimately of uncertain intent. At the very least, though, one can appreciate the work of Ulla Jacobsson, Eva Dahlbeck, Harriet Andersson, and Margit Carlkvist on the female side and Gunnar Bjornstrand and Jarl Kulle on the male side.
Criterion’s full frame Blu-ray transfer is derived from a new 35mm print struck from the original camera negative and makes the film look better than I’ve ever seen it in a theatre or on home video. Blacks are deep and contrast is excellent. Details of facial expressions, clothing, and interior locations are impressive. Grain is well-modulated throughout and the gray scale apparent is nicely graduated, yielding a very film-like look. The Swedish LPCM mono track is in good shape. Dialogue is clear throughout, reflecting the considerable clean-up of hiss, pops, and hum that was undertaken. English subtitles are provided.
The Blu-ray ports over the previous Criterion DVD supplements: a video introduction by Bergman, a video conversation between Bergman scholar Peter Cowie and writer Jorn Donner on Bergman’s career with specific reference to Smiles of a Summer Night, and the theatrical trailer. There’s also a good booklet containing essays and reviews. Highly recommended for those who know the film. For those new to Bergman, I’d rent this one first before making a purchase decision.
- Barrie Maxwell