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"Smiles of a Summer Night" is one of the most elegant and charming
carnal comedies ever filmed. It is clever, witty, and incredibly sexy.
Did I mention that it was written and directed by The Ingmar Bergman
whose name would not usually be associated with the comedies?
"Smiles of a Summer Night" was a great success with both the critics and the audiences and was submitted for the Cannes film festival without its creator's knowledge. The film was nominated for the Golden Palm and won the Award for Best Poetic Humor. Bergman describes how he found out about his movie's international recognition, "I was sitting on the toilet reading a morning newspaper. One of the articles was entitled, The Great Victory for a Swedish Cinema at Cannes. I thought, what a wonderful news, what is the movie? And then I read the title, "Smiles of a Summer Night" by Ingmar Bergman." He recalls how poor he was then and he borrowed the money for a ticket to Cannes from Bibi Anderson whom he dated at the time.
I did not laugh a lot but I don't think I was supposed to - "Smiles... is a different kind of comedy, sensual and subtle, with the characters often weak but not ridiculous. The beauty of it is in the dialogs, ironic looks, the charming struggle of wits, and in the realization that not everyone will be blessed with the true and passionate love but the life goes on, anyway. The actresses (Ulla Jacobsson, Eva Dahlbeck, Harriet Andersson, and Margit Carlqvist) were incredibly sexy, especially Eva Dahlbeck smoking a cigar and Harriett Andersson as a chambermaid talking to her mistress about the virginity delightful!
There are no words to describe the beauty, splendor, charm, humor, and sensuality of this film. The best I can do - to paraphrase Woody Allen's line -"that was the most fun I've ever had without sex."
Charming, light-hearted, delicate, and romantic are not the terms most people think to use when describing Bergman films, and yet "Smiles of a Summer Night" is all of these. This is one of the most sophisticated romantic movies ever filmed, and a pure delight. It is a clever and witty romance based on the classic elements of French farce. Simply wonderful.
Men, as a gender, do not come off well in Bergman's charming sex comedy
Smiles of a Summer Night, made only one year before his breakthrough
hit, The Seventh Seal. At the center of the film is Frederik Egerman
(Gunnar Bjonstrand) pompous and self-assured as a lawyer but insecure
and frightened by competition as a lover. His son, Henrik (Bjorn
Bjelvenstam), torn between the church and the bedroom, is filled with
self-hatred for even thinking about going to bed with Petra the maid
(Harriet Andersson). Another over-the-top male character is Count
Malcolm (Jarl Kulle) a poseur whose only response to his wife's
infidelity is to challenge the paramour to a duel or a game of Russian
In Bergman's world, men are childish, selfish, and arrogant. The women on the other hand are stronger, more self-reflective, capable of pandering to the male ego and to direct their affections elsewhere when the need arises. They suffer greatly, however. Charlotte Malcolm(Margit Carlqvist), the Count's wife admits that she hates men and finds them repulsive with their "hairy" bodies but nonetheless is hopelessly in love with her philandering husband. She says that in any event "a woman's view is seldom based on aesthetics. And one can always turn out the light." Set at the turn of the century, Frederik is married to the very beautiful 19-year old Anne (Ulla Jacobson) but their marriage has never been consummated even after the passage of two years. Though it remains unclear as to why this is the case, nonetheless, Frederik is not at a loss for romance, taking up with a famous actress the equally lovely Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck), a relationship that began soon after Frederik's first wife died but never revealed to Anne. He confides in her in a way that he cannot with his young wife and she is a comfort to him though their relationship is full of bitter verbal thrusts and parries. Desiree on the other hand has a string of lovers and it is not hard to understand why, given her fame, beauty, and rapier wit. One of them is the aforementioned Count Malcolm, a ludicrous character with his military getup and macho posturing.
The Count is also not averse to playing around and it turns out that he is also married to the stately and elegant Charlotte. He says that he can accept someone making overtures to his wife but if anyone goes after his mistress, he becomes a "tiger". Later he says the exact opposite when his wife and Frederik have a go round. Oh yes, Henrik secretly desires Anne, and Petra, well she's open to any offers. The situation could have deteriorated into farce but in Bergman's assured hand, everything is resolved in a civilized and even graceful way at a gathering of all eight combatants at Anne's mother's country retreat. Here they all drink a mystery wine and sort out their relationships in a remarkably satisfying manner.
Smiles of a Summer Night came as quite a surprise to me, being used to the philosophical Bergman of Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal (yet always with an added bit of humor). I found it thoroughly enjoyable, an opinion apparently shared with Woody Allen whose film A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy mirrored it and Stephen Sondheim who based his musical "A Little Night Music" on the film. I can't remember when there was such a collection of beautiful women in one film. Not only do they look wonderful but act impeccably and say wise and witty things. Bravo Bergman!
No matter how many films I see, whether they be foreign language or American or silent, early sound, or currently in theaters, I still find myself getting surprised by the content found in older films. "Smiles of a Summer Night" is a pretty edgy film, touching with great candor subject matters somewhat taboo today. And the film does this while being a complete joy to watch. This is certainly one of the great sex comedies and certain to be a good introduction to Bergman for those concerned about some of his tougher films. Besides, any Bergman fan should be proud of this film, because word has it that he had reached a crossroads, during a heavy bout with depression, before writing this film. He was either to commit suicide or write a comedy. The rest of his catalog and his canonized presence in film history shows what that decision brought us.
This was director Ingmar Bergman's break-through film, the winner of
the 1956 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, the first of his many
internationally acclaimed films. The story is a time honored one,
referencing the same tradition of romantic complications found in
Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and Rostand's LA RONDE: every
one is either in love with or married to the wrong person.
A famous actress with two very different lovers invites both, their wives, and the son of one lover to her mother's country estate in the hope of sorting out the romantic entanglements to her satisfaction--and the result is considerable charm and unexpectedly dry wit. All the performances are excellent, with Eva Dahlbeck's Desiree a standout, but the real star of this ensemble piece is the unexpectedly witty script. Never quite veering over into broad farce but never sinking into romantic sentimentality, it is a very precisely written tale, and both cast and director make the most of it.
In the face of Bergman's later work, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT may seem rather slight, and indeed both psychology and cinematography is considerably less complex than one expects. Even so, it is very much a Bergman film: the visual style is distinct, and the themes of appearances vs. reality, the inability to correctly interpret another's behavior, and the failure to understand one's self are very much in evidence--only here to comic effect. It is in every way a charming film that Bergman fans will enjoy.
Incidentally, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT was successfully translated to the stage as the musical A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, the score of which includes the famous "Send In The Clowns." Fans of the original film will be interested to compare the two works.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
A rare comedy from director Ingmar Bergman.
It takes place at the turn of the century. Fredrik Egerman is an old, cynical man who is married to beautiful, young (20) Anne. She can't have sex with him--she's too afraid. He knows and agrees to be patient. He also has a son from a previous marriage (Henrik) who is attracted to Anne. He's also attracted to the maid Petra. Then there's Desiree, a former mistress of Fredrik who is now sleeping with Malcolm (who's also married) and still attracted to Fredrik. Got all that? They all end up spending a summer weekend at a beautiful house in the woods. Things come to a head.
I've always wanted to see this--the title alone is beautiful. I did see it in a revival theatre in the 1980s--I hated it. The print was lousy and edited! During a fairly explicit (for 1955) talk about sex the subtitles disappeared! Just saw it again--unedited and in pretty good shape. While I don't think this is a masterpiece (I'm not a Bergman fan) I did like this.
It is funny--but pretty subtle. The relationships are all complicated but you do have them straight by the end. What's really good about this film is how Bergman treats (and shows) his female characters. Except for Anne (but she changes) they're strong, stand up for themselves and find men and their ways amusing--some of Desirre's looks were very funny. Also, in the form of Petra, they want sex and have no problem letting men know. For 1955 audiences this must have been shocking--Petra (almost) bares her breast and the sexual talk between women is very frank.
The acting is good by everybody...but the film is lacking in romance. I never believed any of these characters loved each other. Also it's slow-moving but it all ends happily. So I did like it--I give it an 8.
Later musicalized by Stephen Sondheim as "A Little Night Music" and disastrously remade (sort of) in Woody Allen's "A Midsummers Night Sex Comedy". Avoid that one at all costs.
Ingmar Bergman's dramatic forays capture what is very essential to
great dramas- the key emotions should be expressed like poetry, flowing
to a rhythm even if it's somber and tragic. He uses this emotional
logic with his actors for this comedy of manners and the heart
(pre-Seventh Seal), where he has his screenplay wonderfully unfold the
character's amusing feelings on love, sex, and dealing with the
opposite gender, all the while making sure his players know the words
and the music. Here he has Gunnar Bjornstrand, a regular later on, as a
lawyer who has a son and mistress, but also pines for an actress who
may not fancy him as much as she used to. Harriet Andersson, also a
regular in other Bergman films (a key one being Cries and Whispers
where she played the dying woman), appears as a young, joyful woman,
who even gives the lawyer's son, a priest, a bit of lust here and
In fact, Smiles of a Summer Night is Bergman's most joyous film, though that's not to say there can't be grand moments of joy in his dramas and reflections on god. But in this film, he shows how he is a filmmaker quite competent to skillfully accomplish a story of real people in real romantic whimsies, and at times (such as a quick scene on a bed with two giggling, laughing girls) reveals his views on humanity are truly not as bleak as some might think. Assuredly a must watch for fans of the director, yet one may want to watch a couple of his dramas if they're just starting out on his films (depending on the mood- personally, this would serve as a great pick-me-up as opposed to the stark Cries and Whispers).
Begrman's comedy's tend to leave me cold, but I was persuaded that this one
would be interesting. Bergman to some extent made his name on the back of
this film. Woody Allen famously based A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy on
this movie, thus coming out as a Bergman fan.
Frankly, I think Allen has more talent for comedy than Bergman, but Smiles of a Summer Night has more depth and more interesting development of ideas than the Allen follow-up.
This movie is a typical comedy of manners and the plot is of little consequence - it has a few fun moments but the interest is in the acting and the ideas. In terms of performances, Gunnar Bjornstrand and Harriet Andersson are both superb - the rest are Bergman's usual suspects, mostly of ensemble quality. Perhaps it is Bergman's weakness with comedy, but Eva Dahlbeck and Jarl Kulle (who appear frequently in his comedies) usually seem very weak to me. Bibi Andersson is in this movie, but I blinked at the appropriate moment so I missed her. Sigh.
The core ideas of the film (that love visits few of us, even fewer of us make a good fist of it, most of us live lies and/or make fools of ourselves in matters of love) are examined well and in an enjoyable way. The style of this comedy reminds me of Jean Anouilh's lighter plays, which I suppose reflects the European style of the 1950's.
Most Bergman comedies have aged disgracefully, but this one has aged gracefully and certainly has something. Worth watching.
I have seen just about all of Bergman's available films and Smiles of a Summer Night is among my favorites. The humor derives from the situations, cleverness of the dialogue and foibles of the characters, rather than from Woody Allen-type punch lines. (Bergman has funnier lines in Seventh Seal coming from the squire in his scenes with the church painter and blacksmith). Much of the humor comes from the changeability of the characters. At one point, Jarl Kulle's character says he doesn't mind if someone has an affair with his wife, but they better not fool around with his mistress, and later on says just the opposite. Like Renoir's Rules of the Game or Carne's Children of Paradise, the ensemble cast grows on you with each viewing. Along with Wild Strawberries, a good place to start with Bergman.
I approached Smiles of a Summer Night as a fan of Sondheim's score for A Little Night Music. (I'd never seen the show.) Smiles served as a good beginning to Bergman films: it's got some very dry humour, some very physical comedy, and the trademark panorama of morality that accompanies a Bergman character set. Overall, the film expresses a rather subtle message wrapped in both lighthearted comedy and heavy family relations (not unlike the Sondheim score). It's a message worth hearing, and Bergman's handiwork make its rather deep aspects more approachable. Let's not also forget the beautiful cast and settings, which are appreciated in ANY language. :)
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