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Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

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Links to the Faith Trilogy (1961-1963), Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), Autumn Sonata ('78) (a thread with very few posts, unfortunately, and one I wish I could contribute to because I know this film is touching, and it touched me, but I can't remember this one at all.), and Fanny & Alexander (1983).

I hate starting off a thread with a negative review, but there is no thread, so we might as well start this one off. Those who know me well will probably just roll their eyes and say, "It's Stef. Of course he didn't like it." But I swear to you there are rom-coms out there that I enjoy. (An example.)

Filmsweep Reaction:

I have to admit I wasn't prepared for Smiles of a Summer Night, and I am not in agreement with the many favorable and positive reviews I find glowing around the 'net.

But at any given moment if you were to ask me to make a list of my favorite directors, Ingmar Bergman would make my Top Five, or my Top Ten, every time, easily.

Raised by a minister, he became agnostic as an adult, and every question between those two extremes is raised in the body of his work. Bergman's films have a certain fingerprint, a kind of atmosphere that only he creates -- there's always the search for God, for meaning, a reason to existence, but it isn't content with faceless or nameless spirituality. His films show, and then deny, that something is out there -- but whatever it is, if it is, it's just beyond our reach. His doubt, "adult" and logical in its nature, seems like an expression of a forlorn (and child-like) faith. The shadow of the Almighty creeps around every corner in his films, even as Bergman himself hides away and believes (pretends?) that it doesn't exist.

His style typically displays this, somewhat somber in its tone. His style typically matches his questioning nature, the stories of the meanings of existence he loved to write and direct.

It was a slow process for me to learn about Bergman, and why I so love his films. But over the years, the more I researched (and the more I continue to research by continuing to dig into his oeuvre), the more I am typically rewarded.

I was recording in a studio in Birmingham, England in January of 1996 when I was first introduced (on laser disc!) to Fanny and Alexander('83). It was that film that, as a preacher's child, left a definite impression on me. The father in this film is a preacher, and he is a beast. Whereas my dad is no beast, but definitely a faith-filled man with an agenda, I understood some of the fear of the children in this film. Real and imagined concepts of ghosts and God constantly scare the children in this film -- but nothing frightens the kids more than the concept that God Himself, very much the same form as dad, could be the same juggernaut you fear.

It took a few years, but I eventually made my way into the black and white snowy archives of older Bergman, beginning with perhaps his two most well-known, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries (both from 1957, the auteur's finest year). Later Bergman wrestled with the same spiritually significant themes in his Faith trilogy, which may have been the pinnacle of these deep-seated musings: Through a Glass Darkly ('61), which Bergman has said "conquers certainty"; Winter Light ('63), which he then describes as "penetrating certainty"; and The Silence ('63) ("God's silence -- the negative imprint."). All three mesmerized me, shaking the foundations of my structured belief, and yet opening up new ways to a larger and better faith in a more mysterious and silent God. (I wrote more about the Faith Trilogy beginning here.)

Since then I have found repeated greatness in The Virgin Spring ('60),Persona ('66), Shame ('68), Cries & Whispers ('72), and Autumn Sonata ('78, and the one Bergman I saw and know that I loved, but don't remember it very well now).

I love this man. I love his heart, and his search, and more than anything, I'm thankful for his prolific output, and the truthful heaviness of his films.

But immediately noticeable about Smiles of a Summer Night is that it does not feel like a Bergman film at all. It feels like pre-Bergman Bergman, or a man who hasn't yet come into all the greatness I just described. It feels like it's 1955, before all the other films I just listed, and right at this moment Bergman hasn't yet found his voice.

It also feels cheap, and all too easy. It feels like something that came out of Hollywood at the time, only spoken in Swedish, with frolicking orchestral music in the background and a flair for the easy laugh. Is it unfair to the film itself that I know a bit about Bergman from a timeafter this film was made? Could I have sat through this classifiable "romantic comedy" (i.e., "romcom") (i.e., yuuck!) had it been another director and I didn't approach the story with Bergman bias?

Doubtful. Here's your story:

He is married to her but likes the other gal instead, the other gallikes him back but has taken on a new lover, the new lover is married but won't let anyone fool around with his mistress, but the maid likeshim and his son and flirts with both and slaps the one but then shows him her boobs --- and so on, and so on, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad naseum, et al.

Only the humor is so put-on it feels like you're wading through theatrical melodrama to get to it -- and even then, only for a slight philosophic chuckle -- and the production has a slicker feel, like Bergman knew he needed the cash, like he needed to make this one count at the box office. Indeed, some research around the web shows that this was his most outlandish production cost at the time of filming ($100,000), and that the film made money world-wide upon release (you can still find a glowing review from 1957 here), and that after Smiles of a Summer Night was made, so goes the rumor, Bergman never had to worry about the cost of a production again. This was his hit, and after this, the finances would simply be there.

I'm sorry, but this has the stench of a mainstream sell-out. And yeah, they even had those in 1955.

I know there are artists who have to do this sort of thing in order to create the kind of art they want to make. In fact I just wrote about Woody Allen, who in his film Crimes and Misdemeanors, plays an artist who needs to make a documentary on his successful brother-in-law (Alan Alda) in order to continue with the project of his dreams: a documentary on an Old Testament philosopher no one has heard of. Or -- you hear about the artists who work the jobs they hate in order to put food on the table and continue to chase after their own pursuits. The broke artist in the creative process, selling out to latch onto his dream, working the mill or the mine and running off to showcase stuff on weekends.

It's a noble idea, and a worthy pursuit for many. It's something I struggled with from time to time as a musician. (Yes, I did play six weeks on tour with that certain country band in order to raise cash for a debut recording in my second European alterna-rock band.)

But watching Smiles of a Summer Night simply feels, to me (a Bergman lover), like humiliation of the greatest kind.

They say he had a great sense of humor, between periods of depression and great anxiety.

Sadly, I guess there are polar extremes buried inside all of us.

Smiles of a Summer Night might be a nice little Swedish 50s rom-com, if that's what you're in the mood for. If you're in the mood to see a film by Ingmar Bergman, I say this is no film by the Ingmar Bergman I know, and you should avoid this monstrosity at all costs.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Links to the Faith Trilogy (1961-1963), Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), Autumn Sonata ('78) (a thread with very few posts, unfortunately, and one I wish I could contribute to because I know this film is touching, and it touched me, but I can't remember this one at all.), and Fanny & Alexander (1983).

I hate starting off a thread with a negative review,

Then don't.

Here's a nice appreciation for you...from the guy who doesn't much care for Bergman in general, no less.

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I came to this film through the excellent Sondheim musical that is based on it, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. I can't say I love the film to the same degree that I love the musical (though, in a way, it's kind of unfair to compare them; they share a basic narrative outline, but are ultimately up to different things), but I appreciated it as a break from the stuff for which Bergman is usually celebrated.

(My favorite Bergman films, for what it's worth, are THE MAGICIAN and HOUR OF THE WOLF.)

Edited by Ryan H.

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Like Ryan, I came to this film through A Little Night Music. I enjoyed the film, although I think a good level of that appreciation was just spilling over from my love of the musical. Smiles of a Summer Night was my first Bergman film, and it did make me eager to see more works of his.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Stef: "monstrosity"? Really??

The fact that Smiles is so different from the style Bergman has come to be known for is something I count as a strength, but it did take me by surprise the first time I saw the film.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Stef, what do you think of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing?"


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Stef: "monstrosity"? Really??

The fact that Smiles is so different from the style Bergman has come to be known for is something I count as a strength, but it did take me by surprise the first time I saw the film.

I am either wrong about certain film traditions or I tend to go against the grain, and I'm OK with that. I have proven over the years that I'm willing to be taught, and that I'm willing to change my mind. That I see change and personal growth and time (that's a big one) as catalysts that transform my own opinions. So it may very well be that some day I will change my mind on this. But not at the moment.

Yes, I did feel like hurling mid-way through the film. I meant every word I said, including the last sentence -- but notice the last sentence is preceded by a few paragraphs that spell out that I believe my reaction is more about the film in light of its director, and the fact that I am a huge fan of his later work.

Also, and I can't quite put my finger on this, but it reminded me of The Rules of the Game, and again I know this goes against the great tradition of the critics of cinema, but I still can't stand that film. It's one I haven't changed my mind on (although, to be fair, that one I haven't revisited, so the un-change there may be squarely on my shoulders).

Stef, what do you think of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing?"

I remember very much enjoying the Kenneth Branaugh version of this story, but that's about all I remember. It's been decades, I believe, since I've seen it.

I think that you are getting at something here, which may be that Much Ado About Nothing is something different than other works by Shakespeare. That is something I wouldn't know about, as I'm not any more well versed in Shakespeare than any normal guy who has been through a few gen ed lit and English courses, and I've probably seen five or six plays in the theater in my life. Although for years, I basked in "The Sonnets" like crazy.

And Ken, I am going to read your extraordinary review again before trying to respond to that. A lot to take in. And big words lol


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Yes, I did feel like hurling mid-way through the film. I meant every word I said, including the last sentence -- but notice the last sentence is preceded by a few paragraphs that spell out that I believe my reaction is more about the film in light of its director, and the fact that I am a huge fan of his later work.

I had a drama teacher in high school who insisted that the comedy was the most difficult genre in which to get critical success because it was the one genre where [most] people tended to trust their response more than any critical consensus or analysis. In brief, you either laughed or you didn't. And in that sense, you have an external marker--for yourself as much as others--that the film either worked (for you) or it didn't.

Or, to re-quote E.B. White, analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog; you can do it, but the frog tends to die in the process.

Which is my way of asking, does anyone ever change their mind about comedy? I've perhaps found people who outgrew stuff they used to find funny. But can anyone (not just Stef) be talked into liking comedy? The film that I've tried more than any other to get in line with critical consensus is Some Like It Hot. I've probably watched it eight times. Every time I think, this can't be as unfunny as I remember, each time I find, yeah it is.

There's something in a reader-response tradition about first readings versus subsequent readings (some r-r critics say this is because expectations--and how the text meets or thwarts them--is such a central but unexamined part of the reading experience). I find that when we think about this at all in film, we focus on films with surprise or twist endings, but there's a lot to be said about comedy as a category that, I believe (okay I wonder) is processed differently. In drama, I often see different things, new things. In comedy, it's more like re-living the same things. I find Much Ado more fun with each viewing because I can anticipate the "good parts" coming up (Branagh and Thompson in the garden) but I had this weird experience watching Whedon's version at TIFF. All the Josh Whedon fans who were too young to remember the other movie (or ever have seen a stage production) laughed well enough, but I was like, "Man, this play sucks! " Not just, "this production sucks" (because actually, the production wasn't bad--Nathan Fillion as Dogberry was quite good) but "this play sucks."

Edited by kenmorefield

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I had a drama teacher in high school who insisted that the comedy was the most difficult genre in which to get critical success because it was the one genre where [most] people tended to trust their response more than any critical consensus or analysis. In brief, you either laughed or you didn't. And in that sense, you have an external marker--for yourself as much as others--that the film either worked (for you) or it didn't.

Or, to re-quote E.B. White, analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog; you can do it, but the frog tends to die in the process.

Which is my way of asking, does anyone ever change their mind about comedy? I've perhaps found people who outgrew stuff they used to find funny. But can anyone (not just Stef) be talked into liking comedy?

I really think you're on to something there. I've never drastically changed my mind about comedy. I've watched Monty Python countless times, and the same jokes always make me crack up, even when I anticipate them. Same goes for films such as The Princess Bride and Men in Black. I've also watched several episodes of The Office, and have yet to laugh at any one of them.

Edited by Evan C

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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But can anyone (not just Stef) be talked into liking comedy?

I don't know. I know there have been comedies which I've only come to appreciate on repeat viewings (THE BIG LEBOWSKI, for one), but I can't think of any comedies I absolutely hated that I later came to love.

I thought long and hard about this last night and came up with nothing. Then this morning I saw Ryan's post. The Big Lebowski is definitely one I changed my mind about. This is definitely one I've come to appreciate, in fact love, over the years. Overall, though, like Evan C. mentioned above, I think you're onto something here, Ken.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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But can anyone (not just Stef) be talked into liking comedy?

Sure they can. I didn't get Tati's M. Hulot films the first couple of times I tried, but then I saw Playtime and things began to click. Was I "talked into" liking it? Maybe. Exposure to Tati's style, as well as discussion of those films, laid the groundwork for me to understand what the film was trying to do.

Saying that one can never figure out how to appreciate different styles of comedy strikes me as impoverished, and I'm surprised to see such a view embraced here. No one has to like everything, but comedy's no different than other approaches to various genres. Why do we stretch ourselves to understand different approaches to dramatic material, but then cross our arms and declare "this will never work for me" when it comes to comedy?

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Saying that one can never figure out how to appreciate different styles of comedy strikes me as impoverished, and I'm surprised to see such a view embraced here.

Christian, I don't think that is a particularly accurate or fair representation of what I said or how anyone heretofore has responded to it.

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Specifically, what you wrote was:

"But can anyone (not just Stef) be talked into liking comedy? The film that I've tried more than any other to get in line with critical consensus is Some Like It Hot. I've probably watched it eight times. Every time I think, this can't be as unfunny as I remember, each time I find, yeah it is."

"Comedy" is a broad category. I didn't think that by "comedy" you meant "every kind of comedy that's ever been tried." No, you cited Some Like It Hot. So I figured you meant "the type of comedy tried in a movie like Some Like It Hot."


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I think I should clarify my previous comments. There have been times when I came to appreciate certain jokes which I didn't completely understand the first time I heard them, and some things which I thought were funny as a child, I certainly have outgrown. But I cannot think of any instance when I have done a complete 180 on humor. When I've come to appreciate a joke, I at least found it amusing the first time, but not flat out not funny. Whereas comedy that I found dumb and unfunny the first time, becomes more so on repeat viewings.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Image-71.jpg

Image-8.jpg

Sorry-- this was the only Bergman-related thread I could find. Searches for "Ingmar," "Bergman" and "Seventh Seal" came up dry.

Here's Henrik Lundqvist's "Salute to Sweden" mask for the current NHL mini-season. Garbo and Ingrid Bergman on one side, with Ingmar, Death and the death-dancers on the other side. What a weird piece of sports detritus. I love to imagine some young boy at a Rangers game with his dad, sitting in $500 on-the-glass seats at MSG, asking his dad what the heck is on the goalie's mask.

LET'S. GO. RAN. GERS! (Death!) (Disease!) (Meaning-less-ness!)


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Sorry-- this was the only Bergman-related thread I could find. Searches for "Ingmar," "Bergman" and "Seventh Seal" came up dry.

We have a Seventh Seal thread here. Took more work than usual to find it, though. The first post has links to a few other Bergman threads.


It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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I saw this the other night. I find my enjoyment of it ironic, given Stef’s dislike of the film and the fact that I most likely would have despised this three or more years ago. There was a time period, while I was in the military and right after leaving it, where I held anything that seemed even close to a soap opera plot in utter contempt. But slowly, I began to finally develop an appreciation for the works of Jane Austen for the first time. And then, my personal likes and dislikes changed in being able to enjoy “comedies of manners” for the wit and social commentary that so often comes with them.

Therefore, I thought this film was enjoyable. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy all stories like this one. Some seem saccharine and sentimental while others are sharp and witty. One can be contemptuous of morality while another can make social commentary that contains a very moral point of view. I find Smiles of a Summer Night to be of the latter sort of story. The dialogue is fun and smarter than the dialogue in most romantic comedies today. The archetypes are not unbelievable and their contrasts and conflicts make for social interaction that I’ve seen in real life and it is amusingly familiar. I also appreciate the strength of the female characters, particularly of Desiree, Petra and Mrs. Armfeldt.

Spoilers Below:

If this were made into a romantic comedy today, Harriet Andersson’s Petra would be objectified on the camera and her “loose morals” would be portrayed as either amoral or non-objectionable, but here she eventually laments that she does not have the more committed experiences of the other characters and eventually bullies Frid into committing to be quite traditional. Eva Dahlbeck’s Desiree is by far the strongest character in the film. She makes all the self-esteem issues, jealousies, bravado and anxiety issues of the men around her seem petty and stupid. Her good-humor and manipulation has a moral point of view behind it, and the way she orchestrates events behind the scenes reveal a goodness that is a nice surprise. Do today’s romantic comedies really have women characters like her anymore?

I was also wondering if this film was going to end up being rather contemptuous of marriage, but by the end it didn’t seem to be. There seemed to be a certain amount of Ecclesiastes sort of talk about romantic love and human folly, but even the marriage the marriage that eventually falls apart at the end is the one marriage in the film that the church would probably have rightfully annulled. Moreover, the film isn’t overly romantic about romance itself. In spite of al the goings on, by the end it seems support a wise and healthy view that a good marriage or romantic relationship is one of the sort that makes both partners stronger, and there is a real way in which two people can naturally complement each other.

For a story of this sort, as light or trivial as it really does intend to be, there does seem to be some substance behind it.
 

Here's a nice appreciation for you...from the guy who doesn't much care for Bergman in general, no less.

"It was almost as though marriage was the social-conventional union that could be broken without impugning the morals of the characters but that there is still some vestige of spiritual significance attached to the sex act that would have made it hard to stomach Anne eventually cuckolding her husband with his son."

 

I think this is true, and it's certainly not accidental in the film.  The one character, Malcolm, who does commit adultery, is the most unlikeable of all the men.  His immorality on this point fits right in with this being a jerk to those around him, and his harshness, while it is lampooned, really does hurt his wife.

"I see in Smiles of a Summer Night recognition of the impotence of the “scrupulous conscience” but I’m not sure I see the concomitant rejection of “subjectivism.” There is a kind of ennui that drives Frederik’s hedonism and makes it easier to dismiss, but only when he tries (half-heartedly) in vain to pass on life lessons to his son do we see the characteristic hollowness at the heart of subjectivism."

 

And this is, again, no accidental.  Henrik's advice to his son rings just as hollow as his son's repetition of austere moral platitudes.  Both seem to be extremes that the film appears critical of.

"Patricia Myers Spacks once suggested at a seminar I was at that people in Jane Austen novels always get the marriage they deserve. Who the author (or auteur) weds his character to is one of the quickest and easiest ways for discerning what his or her attitude is towards their life philosophy and actions. It is in the comic reassurance of a happy, if unconventional, end that I find Bergman’s earlier work more palatable than the insistent doubt that characterizes his other films that I’ve seen. The benevolence of God is seen not just in sparing the life of Henrik but in giving Frederik, Anne, the Count, the Countess, and even Petra the loves and lives that make them happiest."

 

Great point.  There is a cheerfulness here that is rarely found in Bergman's other films, and it feels like it is directed or guided by something higher.  It's the sort of story that strikes some of the same moods as Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Human pride, folly and error are laughed at and made to feel ridiculous, while at the same time there is something benevolent (acting partly through Desiree's conscious manipulations) that is also there, whatever it is the director or film viewer would actually call it.

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