Smiles of a Summer Night
The characters in this delightful bedroom farce, which unfolds in turn-of-the-century Sweden, are all undergoing befuddling romantic crises. The middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand) has taken a very young girl as his second wife. But Fredrik finds himself unable to consummate his marriage to his childlike bride Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), who remains a virgin despite sharing a bed with her husband for 2 years.
Fredrik turns for advice about the situation to the glamorous and worldly Stockholm stage actress, Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck) who has the wisdom of long romantic experience behind her, including an affair with Fredrik. Desiree still harbors tender feelings for her former lover even as she chaffs at his cruel slights about her age and the ability of a woman in her "sordid" profession to raise her four-year-old child which she has, tellingly, named Fredrik.
More out of boredom than passion, Desiree has taken on a new lover, a pompous soldier Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle) who is outrageously jealous to boot. The soldier in turn has neglected his young wife Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist) during lengthy visits with his mistress Desiree.
And there is even more romantic dissatisfaction in the Egerman family. Fredrik's son, the struggling, morally-confused theology student Henrik (Bjorn Bjelvenstam) is trying to decide between a life in the church or a romp in the sack with the Egerman's deliciously randy, seductive 18-year-old maid Petra (Harriet Andersson).
With an effervescent touch, Bergman brilliantly captures the tangled problems, jealousies and dissatisfactions that characterize marriage in this clever film about the war between the sexes and the quest for love. Bergman's dreamy, lyrical effect was influenced by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and went on to further influence the Bergman-obsessed A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982), directed by Woody Allen. Encapsulating the pull of life and death that underpins so many of his films, Bergman has said he wrote Smiles in order to be with his Swedish theatrical troupe during the summer and to lift himself out of a deep depression. "This was a terrible time in my life, and I was extremely depressed. So I said, 'Why not make a film just for fun?'" Bergman saw two alternatives: "write Smiles of a Summer Night, or kill myself."
Though the film is most often remembered as a comedy, Bergman has admitted that it "is much darker than it appears."
"Often one makes a tragedy in a good mood and, when in a bad mood, turns to comedy," Bergman noted. The film was made during a time of financial and romantic uncertainty marked by Bergman's troubled romance with Harriet Andersson. Bergman was already tentatively courting actress Bibi Andersson who was promised a part in Smiles which eventually amounted to a tiny part as another actress on stage with Desiree during a scene in the Stockholm theater.
One of the most notable features of Smiles is its bawdiness, exceptional considering the year of its release in 1955. Variety noted its "unusual lusty comedy manner." New York Times critic Bosley Crowther also noted its surprisingly sexual tone, remarking on how "French" and how un-Swedish the erotic content seemed. Even contemporary viewers may be surprised by details of the film like maid Petra's sexual promiscuity, exemplified at one point when she unbuttons her blouse in the middle of setting the dinner table to offer Henrik a sample of her buxom charms. Equally atypical is the randy dialogue like Fredrik's caution to his son Henrik "in love as in horseback riding, if you are thrown, remount before you become frightened."
Smiles of a Summer Night was a remarkable success at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival in keeping with Bergman's prediction that "I thought it was time for a box-office success, and though everyone disagreed with me, I was convinced that this picture would succeed."
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Producer: Allan Ekelund for Svensk Filmindustri
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography: Gunnar Fischer
Production Design: P.A. Lundgren
Music: Erik Nordgren
Cast: Ulla Jacobsson (Anne Egerman), Eva Dahlbeck (Desiree Armfeldt), Margit Carlqvist (Charlotte Malcolm), Harriet Andersson (Petra the Maid), Gunnar Bjornstrand (Fredrik Egerman), Jarl Kulle (Count Malcolm), Ake Fridell (Frid the Groom), Bjorn Bjelvenstam (Henrik Egerman), Naima Wifstrand (Mrs. Armfeldt).
by Felicia Feaster