Summer Interlude (Sommarlek) [Blu-Ray]
Director : Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay : Ingmar Bergman and Herbert Grevenius
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1951
Stars : Maj-Britt Nilsson (Marie), Birger Malmsten (Henrik), Alf Kjellin (David Nyström), Annalisa Ericson (Kaj, ballet dancer), Georg Funkquist (Uncle Erland), Stig Olin (Ballet Master), Mimi Pollak (Mrs. Calwagen, Henrik’s aunt), Renée Björling (Aunt Elisabeth), Gunnar Olsson (The Priest)
A fixture of the European art-house cinema of the 1950s, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman was one of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s favorite filmmakers. In 1958, in response to a French retrospective of Bergman’s films (which at the time numbered 19), Godard published an essay in Cahiers du cinema titled “Bergmanorama,” in which he effusively compared Bergman’s work with the films of Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchock, and Roberto Rossellini. While Bergman had already directed several of his most renowned films at that point, including Wild Strawberries (1957) and The Seventh Seal (1957), Godard reserved his most intense praise for Summer Interlude (Sommarlek), which he described as “the most beautiful of films”—the highest commendation possible for Godard.
It is interesting that Godard was so taken with Summer Interlude because it is not one of Bergman’s most well-known or remembered films, even though it played an important role in shaping his cinematic identity and pointing the direction in which his art would lead for the next four decades. Coming on the heels of This Doesn’t Happen Here (1950), a rather pedestrian spy thriller in the Hitchcock mold, Summer Interlude was a more personal project that derived directly from Bergman’s memories of a summer affair. Bergman himself noted that the film was a turning point in his career, the first time he felt that a film had “obeyed” him: “This was my first film in which I felt I was functioning independently,” he wrote,” with a style of my own, making a film all my own, with a particular appearance of its own.” Perhaps it is this independent spirit, the clear voice of an artist fully emerging into his own celluloid skin, that Godard (and other New Wave directors) sensed in the film. In hindsight, Summer Interlude looks and feels like a number of Bergman’s subsequent (and arguably greater) films, but at the time, it must have seemed like something entirely new.
The film’s protagonist is Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson), who we first meet as a ballerina who, despite being only in her late 20s, has an air of world-weariness and gloom about her. During a dress rehearsal for Swan Lake (a ballet that has interesting parallels with the film’s themes and characters), a book is delivered to her backstage the turns out to be her diary from 12 years earlier who she spent an idyllic summer on an island in the Stockholm archipelago with a university student, Henrik (Birger Malmsten). She returns to the island and relives the memory her love affair with Henrik, whose absence in the present tense foreshadows some kind of tragedy, either physical or emotional. Bergman conveys the warmth and freedom of the Nordic summer, using the physical environment to reflect and enhance the romantic intensity of Marie and Henrik’s love, which is nevertheless surrounded by intimations of death and corruption, the former in Henrik’s black-garbed, cancer-stricken aunt (Mimi Pollak), and the latter in Erland (Georg Funkquist), Marie’s older, wealthy “uncle” who unabashedly lusts for her.
The story, which Bergman co-wrote with This Doesn’t Happen Here screenwriter Herbert Grevenius, is built around a rather simple, but exceedingly effective flashback structure that contrasts the dreariness of the present with the beauty of the past, but without slipping into pat generalizations and easy nostalgia. Marie and Henrik’s love is idealized, but only to a point; Nilsson and Malmsten’s performances have the air of youthful ideals and boundless energy, but also the potential for narcissism and impatience (one of their spats involves Henrik’s jealousy of Marie’s commitment to her ballet dancing). In one sequence, Bergman uses crude, but charming stick-figure animation on a record sleeve as a means of conveying how Marie and Henrik envision their future together, a device that seems wildly out of place unless you consider the correlation between the fantasy of animation as a medium and the characters’ fantasy about their lives.
There is a crucial sense of realism to the characters, even if the film as a whole has a slightly dreamy air to it, almost fairy-tale like. The confluence of realism and fantasy is only one of the major elements of Bergman’s art that is clearly coming into focus in Summer Interlude, which also include a female protagonist (the first in Bergman’s cinema), a psychologically profound use of close-ups, slow dissolves, and a thematic use of the natural environment (most of Bergman’s previous films had been studio-bound). The beauty of the archipelago (wonderfully captured by cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, who shot 13 of Bergman’s films, mostly in the 1950s) reflects Marie and Henrik’s innocence, but also conveys an impending sense of danger. Even in the sunlight, the jagged rocks around the shoreline have a slow-burn menace and there is constant reference to how cold the water is despite the summer month.
With a supple dramatic intensity, Summer Interlude suggests that the splendor of first love is fleeting—that by its very nature it can (and perhaps should) be only temporary, even though its memory never quite fades away. Although the film is structured around tragedy and lost innocence, it ends on an uplifting note in which returning to the past becomes a means of fully grasping the possibilities of the present. First love may be forever lost, but because Marie opens herself to loving again, the human heart triumphs.
|Summer Interlude Criterion Collection Blu-Ray|
|Summer Interlude is also available from The Criterion Collection on DVD.|
|Audio||Swedish Linear PCM 1.0 moanural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||May 29, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Given how good Criterion’s 2K high-definition transfer of Summer Interlude looks on this dual-layer Blu-Ray, I was genuinely surprised to read in the liner notes the terrible condition of the elements used. The 1080p transfer was made from two 35mm duplicate negatives (the original negative having been lost), one of which was scratched and so moldy that even 400 hours of restoration couldn’t remove it all and one of which suffered from severe shrinkage. A careful viewing of the Blu-Ray does reveal some of the limitations of the source celluloid, but it still looks pretty close to magnificent, with great detail, excellent contrast, and a fine presentation of film grain. Additional digital restoration has removed much of the remaining damage, and what remains is minimal and rarely if ever draws attention. The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print and digitally restored.|
|No supplements are included.|
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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