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SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT (Sommarnattens leende) (director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; cinematographer: Gunnar Fischer; editor: Oscar Rosander; music: Erik Nordgren; cast: Ulla Jacobsson (Anne Egerman), Eva Dahlbeck (Desiree Armfeldt), Margit Carlqvist (Charlotte Malcolm), Harriet Andersson (Petra the Maid), Gunnar Bjornstrand (Fredrik Egerman), Jarl Kulle (Count Malcolm), Ake Fridell (Frid the Groom), Bjorn Bjelvenstam (Henrik Egerman), Naima Wifstrand (Mrs. Armfeldt), Åke Fridell (Frid the Groom) Jullan Kindahl (Beata, cook), Gull Natorp ( Malla, dresser); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Allan Ekelund; The Criterion Collection; 1955-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“There’s some magic it has in the shimmering summer tone it sets.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The breakthrough film of Ingmar Bergman (“Through a Glass Darkly”/”The Shame”/”The Silence”); its success gave him international acclaim, including recognition at Cannes, and clout for now on with his studio to make his own films without interference. It influenced both Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music and Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. The ribald comedy of manners is set at the turn-of-the-century in the Swedish countryside, as Bergman uses the rondo of love to have his way with a group of obnoxious bourgeois aristocrats as they try to find their correct partners for life. It skewers all the characters as ridiculous figures, but extends an olive branch of tenderness to their peccadilloes; this is one of the director’s few comedies and is one of his silliest and lightest films. There’s some magic it has in the shimmering summer tone it sets; the period costumes are elegant; the acting is first-rate; the pretentious creatures are ripe for comedy; and there’s enough busty broads who are ready to pop out of their bras to keep it erotic.

Worldly-wise aging Stockholm stage actress Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck) is in a play that her former married lover, the bourgeois middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand), attends with his young wife. He married two years ago Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), when she was only seventeen, and because he doesn’t want to force himself upon her their marriage is still not consummated in a biblical way. Fredrik’s son Henrik (Bjorn Bjelvenstam), from his first marriage, is a depressed and morally-confused theology student, who is about the same age as his stepmother and has expressed a love interest in her. There’s also the busty 18-year-old maid Petra (Harriet Andersson), who tempts Henrik with revealing looks of her boobs but spurns his advances.

When Fredrik goes backstage, the old sparks between the former lovers returns. But in Desiree’s apartment, her current lover, the egotistical, dragoon warrior-like married Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), a lover of convenience more than anything else, comes by unannounced and in a fit of jealousy gives Fredrik the boot. The Count’s gossipy young wife, Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist), a friend of Anne Egerman, is not happy that hubby has such a beautiful and accomplished mistress, and schemes to do something about it. Meanwhile Fredrik is shaken to discover that Desiree has a four-year-old child tellingly named Fredrik.

The centerpiece scene in this engaging bedroom farce is the climactic country house gathering in the midsummer of 1900 in the mansion of Desiree’s liberated former courtesan elderly mother (Naima Wifstrand), who invites all the main characters together for the weekend so her daughter can scheme to bag the man she wants. During the course of the weekend, there’s a botched Russian roulette incident, a roll in the hay, an elopement, a reconciliation, and a change of partners. Though clever and diverting, it never seemed to boil over with purpose or reach the tragic darkness it might have wanted to.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”