Criterion // 1951 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 9th, 2012
The most INTIMATE love story ever told!
"Women. I'll never understand them."
Marie (Maj-Britt Nelson, To Joy) is a gifted yet emotionally closed-off ballerina. However, her steely exterior begins to crack when she receives an unexpected gift: the diary of her former lover Henrik (Birger Malmsten, The Silence). As she reflects on her old relationship, we see flashbacks of a much happier time in Marie's life. What transformed this formerly carefree, giddy, high-spirited girl into the woman she is today?
While Ingmar Bergman had proven himself to be a gifted and ambitious director during the very earliest stages of his career (as evidenced by Criterion's first Eclipse box set Early Bergman), his lyrical meditation Summer Interlude represents one of the most significant turning points in his career. While it would be something of a stretch to call the film his first masterpiece (certain thematic elements would be handled more impressively in later films), it's an exceptional movie that marks the first time Bergman would begin demonstrating more interest in his female characters than in his male ones (a trend that would continue for the remainder of his career, though there are certainly a handful of male-centered exceptions like The Seventh Seal, Winter Light, and Wild Strawberries).
It's also a movie that deals thoughtfully with all three of the major themes that would appear again and again in Bergman's work: God, death, and sex. Granted, the film's mournful exploration of death isn't as potent as Cries and Whispers, its bitter thoughts on God certainly aren't as complex or thought-provoking as those offered in Winter Light, and its study of sexuality isn't as rich and multi-layered as Smiles of a Summer Night. Still, the film serves as an immensely valuable experience for Bergman fans, as one can see the seeds of many great works being sown.
Perhaps what I've said thus far has brought you to the conclusion that Summer Interlude may be more valuable for hardcore cinephiles and film historians than for the average viewer, but let me quickly correct that assumption and assure you that the movie is a rather satisfying self-contained viewing experience. The best-kept secret about Ingmar Bergman is that he was a terrific entertainer; his movies aren't pretentious cinematic chores that are more easily appreciated than enjoyed. There's a great deal of playful humor and engaging drama present in the film, and Bergman offsets the potential pomposity of his Big Statements by giving the overall texture of the movie down-to-earth charm.
The film's greatest asset is Maj-Britt Nelson, who in this film demonstrates why she's referred to as one of Bergman's most underrated actresses. She's so effectively chilly in the film's early scenes that it's almost alarming to see her youthful exuberance on display when the extended flashbacks begin. Giddy and oozing with playful sexuality, Nelson commands the screen with charismatic ease. There's a terrific scene in which she's preparing to wander down to the lake to do a little fishing. As she gets ready, she makes nonsensical noises and swings her fishing pole around the room with cheerful obliviousness. There's no real purpose to the scene, aside from the fact that it demonstrates just how genuinely enchanting Nelson can be. Bergman lingers on her lovingly throughout the film (with tender desire during the flashbacks and with enormous empathy during the later sequences), providing her with an exceptionally large number of those now-iconic close-ups. The director once famously said that, "the human face is the great instrument of cinema. Everything is there." Watching Nelson deal with a multitude of conflicting emotions during the present-day sequences, we see a terrific example of precisely what he was talking about.
Speaking of memorable imagery: one of the great things about early Bergman films is that they're generally blessed with the cinematography of the great Gunnar Fischer; whose rich, deep style has always appealed to me just a bit more than the (admittedly impressive) work of the much-celebrated Sven Nykvist. Here, Fischer repeatedly demonstrates what a valuable asset he was to Bergman during those early years; delivering countless memorable images that greatly enhance the surface-level ideas. My favorite moment comes towards the end. It's a scene involving two characters, and while most filmmakers would have focused on their faces, Bergman and Fischer pan down to their feet. What we see is a touchingly understated image that segues beautifully into the film's rapturous finale (a joyous performance of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake).
In terms of the transfer, Summer Interlude (Blu-ray) isn't quite as pristine as the other Bergman films Criterion has released thus far. Sure, the 1080p/Full Frame transfer does indeed feature strong detail and depth throughout, but it also suffers from some print damage that Criterion simply couldn't do anything about. Some scratches and lines are present that couldn't be removed, and a few scenes also look quite soft. Still, it seems that everything that could be tidied up has been, and the movie still looks strong for its age. The LPCM 1.0 Mono track is stellar, with mostly-clean dialogue and a robust musical score coming through with strength and clarity. The only flaws I'd note in that regard is that the track is quieter than average (I had to turn my speakers up a good deal more than usual to hear everything) and that a handful of dialogue exchanges sound a little muffled. Disappointingly, the only supplement is a booklet featuring an essay by Peter Cowie (though Criterion's typically steep price tag has been discounted a bit to make up for this).
Summer Interlude falls a bit short of being a truly great Bergman film -- it's less focused and less substantial than many of the films that would follow it -- but it's an engaging, thoughtful effort and an important part of the director's resume. Criterion's Blu-ray release is stellar in the technical department, though the lack of supplemental material is disappointing.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (1080p)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated