Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles Of A Summer Night: Several things to state here. First, one of my favorite movies of all time is Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Perhaps I would not have liked it so much if I had seen it later in life or if I had previously viewed many other non-American films made during the mid-twentieth century– when the U.S. was in the throes of America’s Art House Age. As it was, The Seventh Seal was one of the first, if not the first, artsy European film I ever saw— and it absolutely floored me. The Seventh Seal is one of a handful of works of art that actually affected me permanently, became a part of who I am.
Now, since I may not make another entry about Bergman’s films again in this blog, let me pause to remark on the outstanding talent from one of the actors in Smiles Of A Summer Night, Gunnar Bjornstrand. Others from Bergman’s stable of actors get the attention from critics and the press: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson. But my favorite—and someone at least as talented as the others is… Bjornstrand. His range is exceptional. Notice him in the Bergman movies you see. If you can. He is such a good actor that you may have trouble spotting him. I almost did not recognize him as the lawyer in Smiles Of A Summer Night.
Careerwise, Bjornstrand reminds of Takashi Shimura, one of Akira Kurosawa’s regular actors. Toshiro Mifune gets all the acclaim, but Takashi Shimura was also a great actor. Where Toshiro Mifune could play the epic hero and do a good turn with over-the-top style humor, Takashi Shimura played it subtle, showing a gentler humor and the ability to arouse the sympathies of the audience. If you’ve seen Ikiru, you know what I mean.
But back to Smiles Of A Summer Night, or rather— Bergman, himself, is where I’m heading. I have never again been bowled over by a Bergman film since The Seventh Seal. I remember liking Virgin Spring okay, and Through A Glass Darkly. And though highly praised films with excellent actors and some great shots, I can’t say I cared much for either Persona or Wild Strawberries. I loathed Bergman’s The Magic Flute.
Part of my apathy – sometimes even antipathy—toward Bergman, I believe, is generational. I don’t share the same set of sensibilities and experiences of the people who walked this earth fifty years ago. This is especially obvious when it comes to the different senses of humor of different generations. It’s as if senses of humor have an expiration date. I wonder if the people of Bergman’s hay-making days would have found, say, The Bachelor Party funny?
For instance, I watched enough movies from the era of Smiles Of A Summer Night to know that the movie would have been, back in its day, considered quite funny by a large number of people – aka, the masses. But many people of my generation or younger, I think, would find the film mildly amusing at best, and perhaps even tedious. I did, indeed, giggle here and there (especially at the character of the military man), but overall, the movie missed my modern day funny bone.
What is odd, is that now that I am processing Smiles Of A Summer Night to write this post, I keep remembering, in spite of my general ambivalence toward the movie as a whole, parts and pieces that were actually remarkable, not the least of which was that all three main actresses were stunningly beautiful. All the actors were, in fact, excellent, and the characters were well drawn enough for a comedy; thus—writing and acting combined— the film succeeded in creating characters that do what the best drawn characters often do—remind of us of people we’ve known. Tho’ they do come off more as types than individuals– which, of course, is staple of classic comedies.
As for the plot… It, too, is drawn upon classic-comedy lines: humorous situations based on entangled relationships and duplicities.
One classic-comedy ingredient not present in the movie is accidental misunderstanding. Many a comedy has been based on a misunderstanding or multiplicity of misunderstandings between characters. However, I think everyone in Smiles Of A Summer Night perfectly understands what is going on, even when they don’t want to. The lawyer knows he is in danger of losing his much younger second wife to his romantically notioned son. The lawyer’s young wife knows her husband could be snatched away from her by the visiting actress. The military man’s wife knows he is having an affair, and the military man, himself, senses that his mistress is in love with another man.
As you can judge from the previous paragraph, the plot of Smiles Of A Summer Night is pure classic romance— complete with the overly contrived ending—which I always abhor—be it Shakespeare, Shaw, or Allen.
Yes… now that I consider that all the good parts of the movie don’t quite add up to an excellent whole, it dawns on me that Smiles Of A Summer Night is ripe for a reinterpretation for a new generation. Anyone got the guts for a Bergman remake?