Sommarnattens Leende

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(Smiles of a Summer Night)

Sweden, 1955

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Production: Svensk Filmindustri; black and white, 35mm, running time: 108 minutes; length: 2,975 meters. Released 26 December 1955. Filmed Summer 1955 in Svensk studios in Råsunda, exteriors shot in small towns such as Malmö and Ystad. Cost: Bergman states $75,000, other sources claim up to $150,000.

Producer: Allan Ekelund; screenplay: Ingmar Bergman; photography: Gunnar Fischer; editor: Oscar Rosander; sound: P. O. Petterson; art director: P. A. Lundgren; music: Erik Nordgren; costume designer: Mago.

Cast: Ulla Jacobsson (Anne Egerman); Eva Dahlbeck (Desirée Armfeldt); Margit Carlquist (Charlotte Malcolm); Harriet Andersson (Petra, the maid); Gunnar Björnstrand (Fredrik Egerman); Jarl Kulle (Count Malcolm); Ake Fridell (Frid, the groom); Björn Bjelvenstam (Henrik Egerman); Naima Wifstrand (Mrs. Armfeldt); Gull Natorp (Malla, Desirée's maid); Birgitta Valberg and Bibi Andersson (Actresses); Anders Wulff (Desirée's son); Gunnar Nielsen (Niklas); Gösta Prüzelius (Footman); Svea Holst (Dresser); Hans Straat (Almgen,the photographer); Lisa Lundholm (Mrs. Almgren); Sigge Fürst (Policeman).

Award: Cannes Film Festival, Special Prize for Most Poetic Humor, 1956.



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* * *

Comedies have featured more frequently in Ingmar Bergman's output than in his popular image as a purveyor of Nordic gloom might suggest, but few of them have achieved wide success. The sole exception—and the first film to bring him international recognition when it was acclaimed at the 1956 Cannes Festival—is Sommarnattens leende. Not without reason; for though the relative neglect of, for example, En Lektion i Kärlek or Djävulens Oga seems undeserved, Sommarnattens leende is without doubt Bergman's most perfectly achieved comedy to date.

The tone of the comedy is formalized, openly theatrical in its pattern: four men and four women who circle around each other, constantly changing partners in an elaborate dance of love played out amid the baroque splendor of a country mansion at the turn of the century. Presiding over the spectacle is the aged chatelaine, the former courtesan Madame Armfeldt, a burnt-out relic of bygone loves. Parallels are irresistibly suggested with Mozartian opera, especially The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute (which Bergman was later to film), as well as with A Midsummer Night's Dream; the Swedish cinema also offers a precedent in Stiller's sexual comedy Erotikon. Yet the film is very much Bergman's in the skillful juxtaposition of its contrasting moods and event, most notably in the scene of Henrik Egerman's attempted suicide. The script, witty and epigrammatic, plays teasingly with such archetypally Bergmanesque themes as the nature of love, the problem of identity, and the impossibility of lasting emotional satisfaction.

Within the intricate plot, Bergman explores diverse attitudes towards love using each character, each pairing, to comment on and illuminate the others. In their direct, earthy pleasure, the servants, Petra and Frid, expose the hollowness and pretensions of their supposed betters, yet they sense their own limitations beside the enchanted idealism of Henrik and Anne, the young lovers. Fredrik Egerman's futile infatuation with Anne, his virgin bride, weakened by the feline seductions of Countess Charlotte, finally crumbles before the sardonic maturity embodied in his ex-mistress, Desirée Armfeldt. Yet even Fredrik, an absurd and repeatedly humiliated figure, evinces in his perplexed strivings a humanity lacking in the poised and coldly brutal Count Malcolm. As so often in Bergman's films, the women come out of the whole affair distinctly better than the men.

Sommarnattens leende is all of a piece; the studied elegance of the subject matter complemented by the sinuously smooth camera technique, and by the seamless ensemble playing of a cast drawn largely from Bergman's regular "rep company." The film marks the culmination of his early work, and also paved the way, in its rich complexity, for the tortured Gothicism of Det sjunde inseglet and the symbolic dream-landscape of Smulstronstället. In his subsequent output comedies became increasingly rare, and those that he produced— such as Ansiktet and För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor—tended to suffer distortion through the intensity of the director's personal preoccupations. But in Sommarnattens leende Bergman achieved the ideal balance between emotional involvement and ironic detachment to create a wholly satisfying comedy, and one which remains unsurpassed among his films.

—Philip Kemp