Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Smiles of a Summer Night


Dir: Ingmar Bergman

I am tempted to say that this is one of the greatest romantic comedies I have ever seen. But I cannot say that; that statement does no justice to this movie. This is one of the best films I have ever seen.

Bergman has taken familiar material about the courtly indiscretions of lovers and eleveated it into fascinating drama. The characters are so fresh and complex, and the story so cleverly woven together, that I was continually thinking of a delicately balanced painting, where each look tells a story and the placement of each figure complements the others perfectly. Amidst the flirtatiousness and sexual energy of the actors, darker truths about jealousy and loneliness linger. This roller coaster from joy to sorrow, from freedom to slavery to one's emotions, generates a layered study of love that is both brilliant as a statement of the human condition and completely entertaining to boot.

The plot invloves a series of intermingled relationships. I won't get into the details of the couplings, both because of their complexity and my own aversion to revealing too many aspects of the narrative of any movie in these posts. Part of the magic of the film is watching how the tangled web is woven, of who should be with whom and how they are going to get there. But each pair as we first encouter them constitutes an incommensurable clash of personalities, as each character is him or herself an archetype for an approach to love. Resolving that dissonance, each according to its own nature, was an accomplishment to rival the best plays I have ever seen.

The acting is across the board tremendous. Each of the female characters rises above her male counterpart in some important way, through intelligence or spirit or cunning or fortitude. Unlike the simpering, man-hunting caricatures that can all too often populate this sort of story, the women here are all nuanced and poweful characters, at least by the end of the film. The male actors step out of the way often, allowing the women to shine while they themselves stick to the intraverted nature of their characters.

The writing as well is truly remarkable. Characters will, like gunshots interrupting a scene, suddenly break out of the conversation and reveal their inner feelings behind the banter. Not as some clownish aside or preachy soliloquy, but a natural consequence of an inner reaction to the pretense of the lives they lead throughout the film. For example, in discussing her openly philanderous husband, Charlotte Magnus (played by Margit Carlqvist) turns to the camera and opines on her disgust with men. They are deceitful and selfish and cruel and "have hair all over their bodies." Carlqvist's revulsion, and the tremendous depth it gives to Charlotte as a character, stays with the viewer for the rest of the film, coloring our understanding of the woman's actions. Each character gets similar moments, where Bergman's universally recognized talent for exploring anguish comes into the service even of this erstwhile comedy.

In Sweden, the summer nights are long. They appear in this film to work like a full moon might, compelling actions that would seem unthinkable in normal days. The complicated minuet of these contrasting characters never seems forced or artificial, but is just an extention of the context and the chess game that is love and conquest. I was astounded by the writing, acting, and narrative development throughout.

My highest recommendation. Best of genre.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 1/17/2006 09:40:00 PM that...

The Criterion Collection message board I visit was quite giddy when CC announced its release...Sounds like a film I should queue up.

Oh...and go Steelers.