Smiles of a Summer Night: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is a married man, though his sole child was a product of a former relationship. His current wife Anne (Ulla Jacobsson) is young, but she isn’t given much affection or attention. This frustrates her, but beyond that, it causes her intense and deep pain, as she questions her own worth and place in the world. Fredrick isn’t a frigid man by any means, but he chooses to indulge with women other than his own wife. The situation comes into full bloom when Fredrik takes his young wife to see a popular stage production, one in which his beautiful former mistress Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck) is a performer. Of course, Desiree gives one of her finest efforts, making sure to send looks and body language toward Fredrik, much to his pleasure and the dislike of his wife. His old feelings begin to surface and Desiree returns the vibe, which causes Anne to wonder how she fits into the equation. After all, Fredrik has never even taken her sexually, so why would his eye look toward another woman first? At the same time, Fredrik’s son finds himself torn between a normal life and a life of the cloth. He is pulled toward service, but finds himself also drawn toward his own father’s wife. When all these people and more are invited to a house for a spell, will the couples wind up with the correct partners?

Ingmar Bergman is best known for his dramatic, even depressing introspective films that focus on the human condition. But as serious as most of his motion pictures have been, Bergman never lost his sense of humor. That is more than evident in Smiles of a Summer Night, a delightful romp that keeps a smile on your face from start to finish. I don’t think anyone would knock Bergman if all of his films were dead serious, but when he shows off his lighter side, we can see the true depth he possesses as a filmmaker. You’ll still see flashes of his cynical side, but this is at heart a brisk, enjoyable motion picture. If this were someone’s introduction to Bergman’s brand of cinema, his more dramatic films would crush that person like a ton of bricks. As always, Bergman crafts characters we can relate to and puts them in situations we could all face, just the sort of groundwork that allows us to connect, which is crucial to Bergman’s approach. He doesn’t go too deep however, letting simple things drive the picture, such as a turn of phrase or a simple, but effective situation. The dialogue is superb in Smiles of a Summer Night, with a lot of memorable lines. This is natural, realistic dialogue too, so even the most clever of lines is dead on. This movie is a pleasure to watch, so Criterion’s Blu-ray is highly recommended.

Video: How does it look?

“Smiles of a Summer Night” looked good on standard DVD and its Blu-ray version is even better. Presented in full frame, the 1.33:1 AVC HD transfer sparkles. The print looks very clean, with minimal debris and other problems, so the image is allowed to shine and that it does. Black and white often looks “better” simply because of the contrast and shadows. There are some specs and debris to be found, but by and large the image is cleaned up and certainly looks better than any previous version that we’ve seen before. A top notch effort.

Audio: How does it sound?

This Blu-ray features an uncompressed mono soundtrack that sounds a bit superior to the regular mono track found on the standard DVD. Granted, this is a dialogue driven movie and that means mono is more than adequate, no real problems seem to surface here. I heard no hiss or distortion of any kind, which is good news with a flick of this age, to be sure. No errors in terms of dialogue either, which is crucial and all, since this is a movie dominated by dialogue, to be sure. Not much else to report to be honest, although optional English subtitles were included, should you need them.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The supplements are pretty much mirrored from the standard DVD here. The film has been digitally resotred and we get the same video introduction with director Ingmar Bergman. There’s also a conversation between Bergman and Peter Cowie as well as writer Jorn Donner that’s interesting to watch. The original theatrical trailer has been included as well as a booklet (like most all Criterion titles have) with an essay and a review of the film by notorious negative film critic Paulene Kael.

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