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cinemaspeak59

Smiles of a Summer Night -1955 (Updated Version)

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Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), a frothy comedy of manners, set during the early 1900s, brought overdue recognition to Ingmar Bergman.  It is a deceptively light, thoroughly enjoyable film, in which libertines mingle with philistines, and virtuous young people debate the value of virtue.  The main performers are Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand), a middle-aged lawyer, and Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck), a successful stage actress, and Fredrik’s former mistress.

 

Fredrik is married to Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), a woman of nineteen, whom Fredrik worships to the point of divine objectification.  After two years of marriage they still haven’t had sex.  There’s a scene in which it appears their union is about to be consummated, that is until Fredrik, caressing Anne while half asleep, begins to repeat the name “Desiree, Desiree, Desiree”.   Anne sits up in bed, bewildered and dejected.  Fredrik later takes Anne to the theatre to see the great Desiree perform on stage, playing the role of a scandalous noblewoman men find irresistible.  The irony is not lost on Anne.  She asks Fredrik to take her home, several minutes into the play.

 

Fredrik sneaks back to the theatre and suffers a series of indignities when he walks Desiree home.  He sees, for the first time, Desiree’s son (coincidentally named Fredrik) without receiving a definitive answer whether the child is his.  Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), Desiree’s new lover, then shows up at her apartment, and is not very happy to see Fredrik.  Malcolm is a pompous military man (he refers to all lawyers as shysters) and a foil to Fredrik.   Desiree keeps both men guessing whom she prefers (perhaps both; perhaps neither) by engaging in verbal jousting in which she always emerges the victor.

 

Meanwhile, the Egerman household is anything but sterile.  Fredrik has a son, Henrik (Bjorn Bjelfvenstam), from a first wife since deceased.  Henrik is studying to be clergyman.  He and Anne are roughly the same age. The two have a comfortable rapport, and their attraction is obvious.  Anne is one of the few people not bored by Henrik’s sermons on the importance of virtue.  Henrik is quite a character, pious and comically judgmental.  He cautions Petra (Hariet Andersson), the lusty and carefree family maid, against swaying her hips so provocatively.  When Petra bares her breasts, and invites Henrik to touch, he does touch them, but only for an instant before hilariously running away in panic. 

 

Bon Mots are tossed about with abandon. Bergman leaves some of the funniest lines to the most conservative characters. Henrik compares temptation to birds: it’s perfectly acceptable to let them fly over one’s head, but they must never be allowed to nest there.  Malcolm lives by the motto that he’ll tolerate another man touching his wife, but draws the line when it comes to his mistress. Malcolm’s wife, Countess Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist) is a shrewd seductress in her own right, and one of the few women who can give Desiree a run for her money in stealing away another woman’s man.

 

At a dinner party given by Desiree’s mother, Mrs. Armfeldt (Naima Wifstrand), at her posh estate, the women set plans in motion to get their men back.  Fredrik is left to endure another humiliation when he sees something he must have suspected:  Anne is in love with Henrik.

 

But it works out well in the end for all involved.  Fredrik and Desiree are together again (I went ahead and bought that Fredrik is father to Desiree’s son).  Anne and Henrik have eloped, where they can now happily test the limits of virtue.  Malcolm promises Charlotte that he’ll try very hard to be faithful (his new motto is he’ll tolerate another man touching his mistress but never his wife).  Even Petra, the saucy maid, finds love, with fellow servant Frid (Åke Fridell).  The summer night has indeed smiled upon everyone.

 

P.S. In the Criterion edition I saw, Bergman provides an introduction to Smiles of a Summer Night.  He said making the picture was arduous, and that the studio submitted it to Cannes without telling him.  He had to fly to Cannes by himself to see the audience reaction.  This interview was taped in 2003. Bergman mentions the film’s success meant the loss of anonymity – he was basically unknown outside of Sweden – and that was something he missed. Looking back, Bergman said he was still very happy with Smiles of a Summer Night.

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SoaSN would be in my top 10 faves of all time.

 

B)

 

=

Sorry for the duplicate post.  SoaSN has help up quite well.  Then again, all of Bergman's works have.   

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