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Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) – The Criterion Collection #237 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 26, 2011 by  



Ingmar Bergman’s boudoir farce is magnificent, delightful and erotic!   And now “Smiles of a Summer Night” receives its HD treatment on Blu-ray for the first time.  If you want to experience a Bergman film for the very first time, I highly recommend this comedic masterpiece!  Definitely recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1955 AB Svensk Filmindustri. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Smiles of a Summer Night – The Criterion Collection #237

YEAR OF FILM: 1955

DURATION: 108 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), Monaural in Swedish with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: May 3, 2011

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Written by Ingmar Bergman

Produced by Allan Ekelund

Music by Erik Nordgren

Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer

Edited by Oscar Rosander

Production Design by P.A. Lundgren

Costume Design by Mago

Starring:

Ulla Jacobsson as Anne Egerman

Gunnar Bjornstrand as Fredrik Egerman

Eva Dahlbeck as Desiree Armfeldt

Bjorn Bjelfvenstam as Henrik Egerman

Harriet Andersson as Petra the Main

Margit Carlqvist as Countess Charlotte Malcolm

Jarl Kulle as Count Carl Magnus Malcolm

Ake Fridell as Frid the Groom

Naima Wifstrand as Mrs. Armfeldt

Jullan Kindahl as Beata, Cook

Gull Natorp as Malla

After fifteen films that received mostly local acclaim, the 1955 comedy Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) at last ushered in an international audience for Ingmar Bergman. In turn-of-the-century Sweden, four men and four women attempt to navigate the laws of attraction. During a weekend in the country, the women collude to force the men’s hands in matters of the heart, exposing their pretensions and insecurities along the way. Chock-full of flirtatious propositions and sharp witticisms delivered by such Swedish screen legends as Gunnar Björnstrand and Harriet Andersson, Smiles of a Summer Night is one of cinema’s great erotic comedies.


Vibrant, elegant and absolutely delightful! Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night” is a charming comedy that is sexy, sensual and brilliant!

Ingmar Bergman is a filmmaker prior to 1955 has had films that were critically acclaimed but if there was one problem that Bergman faced, it was the fact that his films were not big moneymakers. So, needless to say, Bergman faced incredible pressure when working on “Smiles of a Summer Night” and thus, the filmmaker turned to comedy as this film would be a barometer of success of whether or not the Svensk Filindustri will continue to finance his films or not.

Not only was “Smiles of a Summer Night” a success. The film would introduce Bergman to an International audience thanks to its exposure at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival and to this day, the film continues to be a beloved film by cineaste and film critics. In fact, Time Magazine included the film in their “100 Best Movies of All Time” back in 2005.

In fact, the film would inspire filmmakers such as Woody Allen to create “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” (1982) and the Broadway musical “A Little Night Music” (1973).

With the first release of “Smiles of a Summer Night” on DVD from the Criterion Collection in 2004, Ingmar Bergman’s romantic comedy receives its first release via HD on Blu-ray in May 2011.

“Smiles of a Summer Night” focuses on a family which includes Fredrik Egerman (played by Gunnar Bjornstrand), a wealthy lawyer and a man known for his past liaisons with women when he was younger and is now married to the young 19-year-old Anne Egerman (played by Ulla Jacobsson). But surprisingly, despite being married for two years, the two married couple has yet to consummate their marriage.

Living with them is his son Henrik Egerman (played by Bjorn Bjelfvenstam).  A son from his previous marriage and is a young man studying to be a minister and is also a musician who his stepmother Anne can relate to more due to their closeness in age.  But the truth is that young Henrik is starting to fall for his step-mother and instead of going with his sexual urges and having an affair (and betraying his father), he puts his attention to the flirtatious servant Petra (played by Harriet Andersson).

One night after coming back from a long trip, while alone with his wife in bed and as he kisses her passionately, he accidentally calls his young wife… Desiree.  Who is Desiree?

When the two go out for an evening to the theatre, to Anne’s shock, the lead singer is Desiree Armfeldt (played by Eva Dahlbeck), a beautiful blonde.  And when she looks up to their balcony, this makes Anne even more jealous and puts her to tears.  Unable to watch the show, she begs her husband to take her back home.  Meanwhile, Fredrik secretly learns that his son is smitten with his servant Petra but she is hard-to-get and also a tease.  But he finds it amusing to see how his son is with a woman.

While Anne is asleep after her emotional ordeal of finding out the identity of Desiree, Fredrik sneaks out of the house and visits Desiree to tell her that he thinks his young wife may know that the two have something going on and talk about his marital problems, something that Desiree doesn’t want to talk about.

What we do learn from their conversation is that Fredrik and Desiree had an an affair during his last marriage and before he married Anne.  Desiree broke off the relationship and the two never saw each other since.

But what shocks Fredrik is that Desiree is a mother of a young boy who she named Fredrik.  When Fredrik confronts her about the boy, she tells him that he is not the father.  But Fredrik insults her saying that he could not picture her as a mother and this upsets Desiree.

Meanwhile, another man, Count Carl-Magnus Malcom has come to visit Desiree and Fredrik learns that she has been having an affair with this army officer with a bad temper.  Needless to say, both men do not get along and Count Malcom threatens Fredrik to leave and before any trouble can happen, Desiree manages to get Fredrik out of her home before any damage is done. But because of this ordeal, the count got violent with Desiree and she ended their affair immediately.

But since meeting with Fredrik and seeing the state of his marriage, as well as the state of the Count’s marriage with his wife, Desiree comes up with an idea.

Desiree wants to help everyone with their marital woes, so she decides to invite Fredrik, Anne, his son Henrik, Count Malcolm and his wife to her country house for a summer party.

But what Desiree and Fredrik doesn’t know is that Count Malcom’s wife Charlotte is very good friends with Anne, both women harbor a hatred towards Desiree, Count Malcom harbors a hatred towards Fredrik (and vice versa),  meanwhile the sexual tension between Anne and her stepson Henrik begins to intensify.    What will happen at Desiree’s summer party?  Will she be able to help everyone’s marital woes or will the party end in disaster?

VIDEO:

“Smiles of a Summer Night” on Blu-ray is presented in black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio), 1080p High Definition.  The one thing you will notice is the film’s contrast if compared to the original 2004 DVD.  While the 2004 DVD was well-done for its time, the contrast is much better on Blu-ray.

The contrast and detail is well done as the blacks are rich and the whites are natural looking.  Film grain is noticeable and intact and for a film that is nearly 60-years, I felt that the Criterion Collection did a magnificent job as I didn’t detect any debris, scratches or any defects.

According to the Criterion Collection, the high definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a new 35mm print made from the original camera negative.  Thousand of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for  small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

Overall, “Smiles of a Summer Night” looks fantastic on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Smiles of a Summer Night” is presented in Swedish Monaural with English subtitles.  Dialogue is crisp and crystal clear and the subtitles were very easy to read.  I didn’t notice any audio defects, pops, hiss or cracking during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Smiles of a Summer Night – The Criterion Collection #237” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Ingmar Bergman Introduction – (2:50) Ingmar Bergman reflects on the success of “Smiles of a Summer night” filmed in his theater on the island of Faro and produced by reporter Marie Nyrerod for SVT Svensk Television in the summer of 2003.
  • Peter Cowie and Jorn Donner – (16:47) Film historian Peter Cowie and writer Jorn Donner discuss Ingmar Bergman’s return to the Svensk Filmindustri in 1955 with “Smiles of a Summer Night” and how the success of the film introduced a new side of the filmmaker.
  • Trailer – (1:5) The original Swedish theatrical trailer for “Smiles of a Summer Night”.

EXTRAS:

Included is a 26-page booklet featuring the essay “Midsummer Merry-Go-Round” by John Simon and Pauline Kael’s review of “Smiles of a Summer Night”.

Put yourself in the audiences shoes back in 1955, where films were conservative and if it was directed by Ingmar Bergman, one would expect a film that would have dark undertones and for the most part, bleak.

But “Smiles of a Summer Night” was a big surprise for audiences not only in Sweden but also worldwide as the film was so different from any film that Ingmar Bergman had done.  No dark or bleak undertones, in fact, the film would be the opposite of a Bergman film in the fact that it was erotic, delightful, fun and highly entertaining.

The film not only saved Bergman’s film career but it would be the film that would introduce the world to the Swedish filmmaker.

Which began with a Palm d’Or nomination at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, the film would launch Bergman to greater heights with films such as “The Seventh Seal” (1957), “Wild Strawberries” (1957), “The Virgin Spring” (1960) and many more films which would be nominated and also would win awards for Bergman throughout his career.

But what could have been a long sleep-inducing film was cleverly written with humor and with talent who took control of their characters and brilliantly performed the role on  the big screen.

The biggest attraction for me was the communication and innuendo between Fredrik Egerman (Gunnder Bjornstrand) and Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck).  You really don’t know what kind of guy Fredrik is until you see him leave the house and visits Desiree.  The first time I watched the film, you wonder if this man has a dark secret (which would make sense for a Bergman film) but although he does have a secret, it’s a man visiting an old flame.

The playfulness of both characters as Desiree tries to escort him to her home and tells him to be careful of a puddle and then seeing Fredrik fall in the puddle and see him getting drenched was a scene that made me laugh.  If you are a viewer of Bergman’s films, laughing at a character may seem a bit unusual.  And it when these two are just discussing their former sexual relationship, Desiree titillating the audience as well as Fredrik and their banter of going back and forth as one is not willing to submit to any wrongdoing.

This tete-a-tete between the two characters was not only enjoyable but you realize that this comedy is a different kind of Bergman film.  Fresh, unique and naughty (in a mid-1950’s international cinema way), you can’t help but want to see more of these characters on camera.

But Bergman doesn’t stop there.  He ads the naughty servant Petra into the mix and see how she gets Fredrik’s son, Henrik out of his shell.  Taunting him with her breasts, grabbing his hand and putting it on her breast to see him squirm.

And then the young Anne Egerman, wife at 19 who has not consummated her relationship and you ask yourself, how is this possible?  Especially with a man like Fredrik who is used to being with women, and I’m guessing if he has been with a wild woman like Desiree, you have no doubt that he is a genuine playboy.  But what is stopping this playboy from being with his wife?

Yes, his wife Anne is reserved but you can tell by watching this film that she wants to make things happen but the only attention she is truly getting is her stepson who happens to be a few years older than him.  We know that Anne is jealous of her husband when he accidentally calls her “Desiree” during a passionate moment in bed.

Throw in a rival for Fredrik in the supposedly violent Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, a man who cheats on his wife Countess Charlotte Malcolm in order to be with Desiree.  Charlotte happens to be very good friends of Anne but the main difference is that no matter what happens in the Count and Countess’ relationship, she is very much in love with him.

Needless to say there is a lot of tension, especially sexual tension when Desiree brings these characters to her summer home for a party.  You can easily feel the uneasiness of the situation but also the feeling of wanting to laugh because the whole predicament these characters are in is hilarious!  The personal complications between the characters is quite entertaining and its stylized nature is absolutely farcical.

In the end, Ingmar Bergman pulls of a clever film and as I would have imagined “Smiles of a Summer Night” to have major impact back in 1955, nearly 60-years later, while the situations featured in the film may be commonplace and even banal, the film and its strong performances continue to win you over.

As for the Blu-ray release of “Smiles of a Summer Night”, there is no doubt that the film benefits with its new transfer for Blu-ray.  The contrast of the film really enhances the overall look and compared to the DVD release, this is the best looking version of “Sommarnattens leende” to date!  As for the special features, there is nothing new added to this Blu-ray release, so it all comes down to one’s love for Ingmar Bergman’s films and those who want a delightful, charming romantic comedy on Blu-ray.  And although a pretty solid release, for 2011, I was hoping that there would be something new added in terms of special features for 2011.   An audio commentary track or anything new for this new release would have suffice, but that is just me being picky.

The fact is that “Smiles of a Summer Night” is the film that introduced the world to Ingmar Bergman, it’s a film that gave his career longevity rather than ending it and it continues to be a beloved film for many cinema fans nearly 60-years later.  If you are a big fan of the film.

Ingmar Bergman’s boudoir farce is magnificent, delightful and erotic!   And now “Smiles of a Summer Night” receives its HD treatment on Blu-ray for the first time.  If you want to experience a Bergman film for the very first time, I highly recommend this comedic masterpiece!  Definitely recommended!

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