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Summer Interlude – The Criterion Collection #613 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 27, 2012 by  



“Summer Interlude” is an Ingmar Bergman film that is a must see, must own film to own, if you are a fan of his work or really want a film that shows a major breakthrough within Bergman’s fillmmaking and would be among Bergman’s earlier films to jumpstart the period of  fantastic Swedish cinema.

Image courtesy of © 1951 AB Svensk Filmindustri. 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Summer Interlude – The Criterion Collection #613 (Sommarlek)

MOVIE RELEASE: 1951

DURATION: 96 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, 1:37:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural Swedish with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection

RELEASE DATE: May 29, 2012

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Written by Ingmar Bergman, Herbert Grevenius

Produced by Allan Ekelund

Music by Erik Nordgren, Bengt Wallerstrom

Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer

Edited by Oscar Rosander

Production Design by Nils Svenwall

Starring:

Maj-Britt Nelson as Marie

Birger Malmsten as Henrik

Alf Kjellin as David Nystrom

Annalisa Ericson as Kaj, ballet dancer

Georg Funkquist as Uncle Erland

Stig Olin as Ballet Master

Mimi Pollak as Mrs. Calwagen, Henrik’s aunt

Renee Bjorling as Aunt Elisabeth

Gunnar Olsson as The Priest

Touching on many of the themes that would define the rest of his legendary career—isolation, performance, the inescapability of the past—Ingmar Bergman’s tenth film was a gentle drift toward true mastery. In one of the director’s great early female roles, Maj-Britt Nilsson beguiles as an accomplished ballet dancer haunted by her tragic youthful affair with a shy, handsome student (Birger Malmsten). Her memories of the sunny, rocky shores of Stockholm’s outer archipelago mingle with scenes from her gloomy present, most of them set in the dark backstage environs of the theater where she works. A film that the director considered a creative turning point, Summer Interlude (Sommarlek) is a reverie about life and death that unites Bergman’s love of theater and cinema.

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is one of the world’s most accomplished and influential directors of all time.

Known for a plethora of films in his oeuvre such as “The Seventh Seal”, “Wild Strawberries”, “Fanny and Alexander”,  to name a few.   Bergman is best known for films that dealt with existential questions of mortality, loneliness and religious faith.  Many of the films, especially the characters are an expression of how Bergman felt at the time.

And many of his stylistic and conceptual themes were formed in his earlier work, especially stories that were set in summer.  “Smiles of a Summer Night”, “Summer with Monika”, “Wild Strawberries”, etc.

But one film that resonated strongly with Bergman was an earlier film from 1951 titled “Summer Interlude”.   Bergman wrote in his book “Bergman on Bergman”, “For me Summer Interlude is one of my most important films. Even though to an outsider it may seem terribly passé, for me it isn’t. This was my first film in which I felt I was functioning independently, with a style of my own, making a film all my own, with a particular appearance of its own, which no one could ape. It was like no other film. It was all my own work. Suddenly I knew I was putting the camera on the right spot, getting the right results; that everything added up. For sentimental reasons, too, it was also fun making it.”

And for the many cineaste who have followed Bergman’s work, many credit “Summer Interlude” as his “breathrough” film and featuring a style that would later be fully expanded in later films.

And now, “Summer Interlude” will receive it first release on Blu-ray (and will also be released on DVD) in North America courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

“Summer Interlude” is a film about a woman finding herself.  Seen as cold and distant, she retains these painful emotions in her life and doesn’t know how to separate herself from them.

The film begins with a professional ballerina named Marie (portrayed by Maj-Britt Nelson) in her late twenties.  As she prepares for a rehearsal for “Swan Lake”, Marie receives a diary and when she looks at it, she is shocked, as if she had seen a ghost.

As she reads the diary, she pictures the face of a young man from her past named Henrik (portrayed by Birg Malmsten).  Why did someone send her this diary?

And because of this diary, Marie becomes emotionally distant from her fellow ballerinas and also with her boyfriend, journalist David Nystrom (pprtrayed by Alf Kjellin).

Due to production problems on “Swan Lake”, Marie decides to use the cancellation of the day’s dress rehearsal by visiting an island, where she once stayed in vacation.  While her boyfriend David wants to have some fun with her, she seems emotionally distant and it starts to bug David, to the point that he gets angry at her cold attitude.

Marie wants to tell him what is bothering her but she can’t.

And with that visit to the island, the story then takes us through a flashback, thirteen years earlier before Marie became a prima ballerina, a time when she was young and staying at the home of her Uncle Erland (portrayed by Georg Funkquist) for summer vacation.

Three days before Marie’s summer vacation was to end and she is to pursue a life of becoming an aspiring ballerina.  Through the summer vacation, that is where Marie would meet a timid college student named Henrik, and for both Marie and Hendrik, it was love at first sight.

And as the two spend time together and fall deeply in love with each other, they know that their summer interlude is ending.  But how their summer interlude will end, is not how Maria envisioned.

VIDEO:

“Summer Interlude” is presented in 1080p High Definition black and white (1:37:1 aspect ratio).  The video quality looks amazing considering that the film is 60-years-old.  The detail is amazing as the film shows quite a good number of closeups.  You can see the skin pores and the details on Marie’s face, her clothing… for the most part, the clarity of “Summer Interlude” looks amazing, black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are well-contrast and this film has not suffered any major damage.

With that being said, there are some white specks and a few lines and scratches that do show up from time-to-time, but the majority of the film looks absolutely great.  In fact, there is a good reason for the scratches which the Criterion Collection mention in the booklet.

According to the Criterion Collection, the original negative of “Summer Interlude” has been lost; this new digital transfer was constructed from two 35 mm duplicate negative sources.   The Criterion Collection accessed the first, the only existing 35 mm duplicate negative in Sweden, at the Swedish Film Institute and was transferred in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner at Chimney Pot in Stockholm.  Much of the duplicate negative, however, was scratched, as well as riddled with mold so persistent that in some sections, it was impossible to remove completely, even after more than 400 hours of restoration.

The Criterion Collection then discovered another 35 mm duplicate negative, in Janus Films vaults, made in 1966 and stored under the alternate title “Illicit Interlude”.  Though there was no mold problem with this duplicate negative, much of it suffered from severe shrinkage, which can cause the right side of the frame to buckle and be out of focus.

The Criterion Collection was able to replace the sections of the Swedish Film Institute transfer that suffered from the worst mold and scratches.  The final master, which still contains scratches that could not be repaired, incorporates nine minutes of Janus Films’ negative with the original transfer.

Additionally thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Image Systems’ Phoenix and PixelFarms’ PFClean were used for small dirt, grain, jitter and flicker.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Summer Interlude” is presented in monaural Swedish with English subtitles.  Dialogue and music are clear from the monaural track and detected no hiss or crackle during my viewing.

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

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Summer Interlude – The Criterion Collection #613” on Blu-ray comes with no special features.

EXTRAS:

“Summer Interlude – The Criterion Collection #613” comes with a 20-page booklet featuring the essay “Love and Death in the Swedish Summer” by Peter Cowie.

As many new fans of Ingmar Bergman are starting to discover a lot of his films through Blu-ray (many released by the Criterion Collection) and on DVD via Criterion’s “Eclipse Series”, many have been introduced to his most earlier work and also his most revered work in his oeuvre.

“Summer Interlude” is a film that is important because it is a beginning for Ingmar Bergman as a filmmaker.  It’s a film that was the first to give Bergman independence and the freedom to create a film his way, his style and was literally the precursor to many of the films that people who have collected his films from the Criterion Collection.  It all begins with this film!

And it’s a film that exemplifies Swedish filmmaking but it’s also a personal film for Ingmar Bergman.

In Sweden, June and July offer people from the city, to enjoy summer vacation in the countryside before the cold, harsh winter.    And it’s a season that Bergman would follow in later films in capturing the summertime, as one of the most memorable experiences in his life took place when Bergman was a teenager.  It is where Bergman would have a magnificent love affair with a young woman who unfortunately contracted polio.

In 1949, Bergman wrote a short story about this young woman and he would eventually go on to use the story for the film “Summer Interlude”.

“Summer Interlude” is a film that is beautiful to watch.  Capturing the beauty of the island region in film, capturing the silhouettes of the characters, but most importantly, how the moods of the characters reflect what is shown onscreen.  Visually rich, the film would attract cineaste and was lauded by film critics including Cahiers du Cinema critic (and filmmaker) Jean Luc Godard who also praised the film’s beauty.  American film critic Pauline Kael  would praise “Summer Interlude” for its “elegiac grace and sweetness.”

Actress Maj-Britt Nelson (who worked on Bergman’s “To Joy” and “Secrets of Women”) was remarkable in playing  28-year old ballerina named Maria who looks tired of life.  Doing something she loves, but yet looks rather effete, a loss of enthusiasm.    But often a person has a hard time letting emotions go of something that has happened in the past.

It’s an elegy that perhaps Ingmar Bergman has kept with him when he wrote the original story back in the late ’40s.   Marie more or less represents Bergman, who saw the young woman that he loved contracting polio.  A woman full of energy and life can change within a second.

We see the same with Marie,  when the story takes the viewer through a flashback when Marie is 15-years-old.   Unlike herself in the future, she is full of energy, constantly giggling, vibrant and full of life.  She feeds off the beauty of the island and she feeds of her love for Henrik.

Birg Malmsten did a wonderful job of playing the shy and timid college student and both Marie and Hendrik are perhaps the juxtaposition of Bergman and the young woman he had a love affair with.  For many people, to love at a young age and to see that love taken away is a painful experience.

While Bergman films would expand to characters that have lost their identities and at times, the storyline are darker than what is featured in “Summer Interlude”, this film has a sense of pureness, hope and one person trying to find her way through tragedy.  The elegy of Marie shows us the corruption of youth in a different kind of way that most traditional films tend to explore of such things.

And as “Summer Interlude” has no doubt showcased an elegiac grace and beauty.  There is a visual style for the film that captures the balance of happiness, vibrancy, sadness and regret, but most importantly, a style that also brings to the viewer…hope.  Magnificent!

On Blu-ray, I was thrilled with the overall quality of the film.  The Criterion Collection have really gone to great lengths into having a proper restoration of “Summer Interlude” and reading in the booklet of how far they had to go in finding the best prints, it’s no surprise that this Bergman film had taken so long to be released (considering The Criterion Collection have released so many films from Bergman’s ouevre on video).  And as people wonder how come some films take longer than others to be released in the US, it appears that the Criterion Collection really went through hoops and bounds to take two existing film elements and present “Summer Interlude” in the best quality as possible.  And I’m grateful for the company for doing that.

While I wish there were special features included on this Blu-ray release, especially an audio commentary, to make up for it, the Blu-ray is much cheaper than other Blu-rays.

“Summer Interlude” is an Ingmar Bergman film that is a must see, must own film to own, if you are a fan of his work or really want a film that shows a major breakthrough within Bergman’s fillmmaking and would be among Bergman’s earlier films to jumpstart the period of  fantastic Swedish cinema.

It’s also important to note that with the release of “Summer Interlude”, Bergman’s other summer film “Summer with Monika” (1953), which shows us an alternate storyline of “what if?”, as a couple who met on summer vacation, must take responsibility when the young woman gets pregnant. So, with the release of both films in May 2012, you’ll definitely want to pick up both of these Ingmar Bergmans film on Blu-ray!

Overall, “Summer Interlude” is a highly recommended film despite its lack of special features.






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