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PopGap #25: Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

PopGap #25: Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

Written by dorrk
14 February 2017

I am tired of people. But that doesn't stop me from loving them.

Legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman has doubtlessly earned his reputation as an intellectually severe director of emotionally despairing characters enduring shattering crises, but he's no slouch when it comes to comedy. of course, for Bergman, a madcap sex farce like Smiles of a Summer Night (a.k.a. Sommarnattens leende) invariably contains a suicide attempt as well as a game of Russian roulette — but when it's not revelling in the self-imposed bleakness of the human soul, it's some of the best comedy writing ever filmed.

Near the end of the 19th century, an aging Swedish lawyer (Gunnar Björnstrand) with a resistant young wife (Ulla Jacobsson), reacquaints with an old lover (Eva Dahlbeck), setting off a chain of desires, jealousies and desperate acts. As usual, Bergman elicits twitch-perfect performances from a sublime cast, but this time around he provides them with the most delightfully scathing and yet ruefully hilarious dialog — especially Naima Wifstrand, who, in her decrepit physical state, is a virtual quip machine with a livelier wit than any of her young, lusty house guests. Caustic, intimate, silly, painful, poetic and profound, Smiles of a Summer Night is Bergman's virtuosity at its most playful. Wonderful from start to finish. Also with Harriet Andersson, Margit Carlqvist, Jarl Kulle and Björn Bjelfvenstam.

Not only Bergman's breakthrough as a major player in world cinema, Smiles of a Summer Night was later adapted by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler into the brilliant stage musical A Little Night Music (the movie of which is not very good).

Smiles of a Summer Night was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Josh Haysom, who can be found on Flickchart under the username Quirky. He ranks it on his Flickchart at #226 (97%, out of 8228 movies) and 10th highest among the 46 movies he's seen directed by Ingmar Bergman. On my chart, Smiles of a Summer Night ranked at #217/3739 (94%), where it's now my favorite Ingmar Bergman movie out of eight (ranked marginally higher than the engrossing Fanny & Alexander).

PopGap #25: Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

Trailer for Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)