Cast & Crew
Marie is a talented young ballerina. She meets Henrik, a wealthy college-boy one summer while staying at her uncles. They fall in love and spend their days focused wrecklessly on each other. As Autumn draws near an uneasy feeling creeps over Marie and turns her stomach sour. The morning of one of their last few days together Henrik makes a shallow dive suffering head and back injuries that kill him not long after. Years later, Marie, bordering on edge of her career as a professional dancer, realizes the mistakes she has made in life as a result of Henriks traumatic death.
Carl Axel Elfving
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Summer Interlude - SUMMER INTERLUDE - A Landmark 1951 Drama from Ingmar Bergman
This information comes courtesy of film historian and Bergman expert Peter Cowie, who has written extensively on Bergman and contributes the fine essay in the accompanying booklet to the Criterion release. I have much less experience with early Bergman, to be honest. It has been, in fact, the recent Criterion Blu-ray releases of classic Bergman films that has brought back to the director and introduced me to films I had never seen previously. It's been a rewarding rediscovery of a director that I confess I have respected more than I've appreciated, in no small part thanks to the sheer beauty of the Criterion presentations. The cinematography of Gunnar Fischer has long been overshadowed by Bergman's legendary collaborations with Sven Nykvist and the distinctive winter light of his images, but Criterion's superbly remastered discs remind us of the beauty of his work, from the sunny, lush warmth of his summer interludes to the gray, foggy cloud of urban life and the cold desolation of fall and winter.
The blush of summer and the death of autumn are defining moods of Summer Interlude. Maj-Britt Nilsson, one of Bergman's most overlooked actresses, plays Marie, an emotionally distant leading dancer in a Stockholm ballet company. An envelope containing a handwritten diary sends her mind reeling back thirteen years, to sunny days of young love and freedom and the first stirrings of desire on a summer vacation on the archipelago islands near Stockholm. She's 15 and an aspiring ballerina, staying in vacation manor home of her Uncle Erland (Georg Funkquist), whose flirtations are more unsettlingly lustful than avuncular, and long-suffering Aunt Elisabeth (Renée Björling).
This is one of Bergman's memory films and it slips back forth between the summer youth and the early autumn of her years. Where the grown Marie has a hard, unsmiling face caked in stage make-up like a warrior's mask, this young Marie is as sunny and warm as the weather. She is all confidence and openness when reaches out to Henrik (Birger Malmsten), a shy young student staying on a nearby island with his sour old guardian (Mimi Pollak), a survivor who sneers at the serious Henrik. These youngsters escape the shadows cast by the gloomy, greedy adults in a joyous affair, setting up house in a little cabin on the shore and luxuriating the days away, like kids playing house. Bergman is quite frank about their sexual relationship but presents it with an innocence and carefree freedom. While the adults drink themselves numb, these kids get drunk on the sun, the sea, the wild strawberries of the island, and each other. Meanwhile, in the present, an emotionally dormant Marie impulsively hops a boat to revisit the island in autumn, where the trees are barren skeletons and a fog of suffocating cold has smothered the summer reverie, as if drawn by her unresolved emotions.
Interlude is as theatrical and literary as it is cinematic. Steeped in metaphor, it is a philosophical rumination on love and loss staged as a story, with characters more like archetypes in a theatre piece. Summer is the charge of youth in the idealism of eternal vacation, yet she has premonitions of something terrible, brought on not by anything in the story on the screen but the necessity of the drama. In the present Uncle Erland is like a ghost haunting the manor where he's stuck in the disappointment of his unfulfilled past, as if he'd never left. A weighty conversation about the inevitable end of her dancing career in a few short years is conducted in a dressing room with the ballet master, a former star dancer now a choreographer and trainer, who is dressed in the costume of a cuckoo, at once clownish and predatory: the devil playing the fool.
But Bergman also embraces the charge of freedom in the young love of the vacation romp, escaping the heaviness of his symbolic gestures with the sheer brightness and lightness of their play on the hills and shorelines of the island paradise. Nilsson may not look the 15-year-old of the part but she embodies the openness and vivaciousness of a young woman discovering herself, unwilling to allow even the cynicism of her guardians to dampen her pleasure in life. And Fischer's photography celebrates the glow of her summer days with clean, clear images that capture the simple beauty of the landscape.
Summer Interlude is a miniature, a study of sorts in character and idea, small in scope and ambition and full of lovely moments and delicate performances. Next to his fully mature works, it's like an accomplished sketch of the themes and worlds that will soon dominate his films, with delicate photography as expressive as it is controlled and a central performance that shines with optimism and joy. Marie's evolution through the story hasn't the conviction that later Bergman scripts will provide, and her third act breakthrough is more wishful thinking than organic resolution. In retrospect, it could be a rough draft for his even more accomplished Summer With Monika, the film that first brought him widespread international attention. Yet even on its own it is a lovely and heartfelt film (in part drawn from Bergman's own past) with moments of grace.
The original negative to Summer Interlude is lost. Criterion's presentation is mastered from two 35mm duplicate negatives, both suffering from age-related damage. Despite extensive chemical restoration and digital clean-up, the film exhibits fine scratches across some scenes but otherwise looks very good (remarkably so, given the damage to the source prints), with vivid images and good clarity and contrast. The film grain is present without being overt or distracting, and it retains the distinctive texture of solid black and white film print, especially on Blu-ray. At times, it seems to shimmer. There are no supplements beyond an accompanying booklet with an original essay by film historian and Bergman scholar Peter Cowie.
For more information about Summer Interlude, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Summer Interlude, go to TCM Shopping.
by Sean Axmaker