1950s, 3/4, Bergman, Comedy, Review

Smiles of a Summer Night

Image result for smiles of a summer night poster

(I started writing reviews of the Criterion Collection Bergman films with Wild Strawberries, having missed the first three films. This is a rectification.)

This is one of Bergman’s lightest and most easily delightful films. I just wish it added up to a bit more, though I enjoy the film as it is thoroughly.

The movie is about three couples (well, four) and how they start the movie with the wrong people and end it with the right people. There’s Fredrik and Anne Egerman. Frederik is an older widower who married the much younger Anne after his mistress, Desiree, suddenly ended their relationship. Then there’s Desiree and Count Carl-Magnus. Desiree is an actress and former lover to Fredrik. Carl-Magnus is a count and married to Charlotte. There are two individuals outside of relationships: Charlotte is married to Carl-Magnus and embittered by the fact that he is unfaithful, and Henrik is Fredrik’s son and obviously in love with Anne. On top of that, there’s Petra, the Egerman’s servant, who playfully teases and sleeps with Henrik.

Obviously, everyone is with the wrong person. Fredrik should be with Desiree. Carl-Magnus should be with his wife Charlotte. Anne should be with Henrik. Petra should be with a man of her class who’s as sex driven as she is. It’s all wrong.

Well, Bergman approached his manufactured problem like a math equation (he wrote), and spent the movie solving that equation to get everyone in the right place, and it’s (almost) all told with an incredibly light hand. There are moments where we have typical Bergman soul searching (in particular from Charlotte), but the movie never feels weighed down.

From Anne awkwardly sitting on Frederik’s lap, to Carl-Magnus’ declaration that anyone who touches his mistress (which he later repeats about his wife) will drive him to become a tiger, to the game of Russian roulette that ends the movie, the story skips along, following well-defined characters as they farce their way from one situation to the next. It embraces different levels of comedy at the same time as well. There’s plenty of witty wordplay, but Bergman also embraces some slapstick here and there (like Frederik falling into a puddle) that actually ends up bearing out narrative consequences. The comedy is always at service to the story, and never simply there to try and pull a laugh from the audience.

Then there’s Petra. Petra meets with another servant, Frid, and the two obviously compliment each other well. He’s as brash as she is, and they frolic without a care as the main characters sort through their issues. They spend the short summer night outside and Frid describes the different smiles that the summer night manifests. They also promise marriage to each other, showing the lower classes enjoying the joys of love as much as the upper classes (and having more fun doing it as well).

I just wish it came to more. It’s an entertaining film. I find it funny, but not hilarious. I like the characters and they’re handled well, but there’s probably too many of them to dig too deeply. The movie doesn’t seem to be trying to say anything about love in general, so it feels thematically slight. It’s a fun little movie that I very much enjoy, but I just wish it could have been a bit more.

Netflix Rating: 4/5

Quality Rating: 3/4

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2 thoughts on “Smiles of a Summer Night”

  1. I enjoy this film a great deal, and I do think it has some depth, particularly in pointing out why people end up where they are (where everyone says they should be) instead of where they’d rather be. But I don’t miss substance, here; it’s like eating a candy bar. It does what it does and makes us happy, and I don’t ask for anything more lasting.

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