It is a well-known attribute of the List that certain directors are very well represented with Hitchcock well ahead of the pack. One of the directors massively represented is Ingmar Bergman. This is not the first time I review one of his movies and certainly it will not be the last one, but I believe this is the only time I will get to review a comedy of his and a romantic one, no less.
Apparently “Sommarnattens leende” was Bergman’s international breakthrough as it was shown on the Cannes film festival in 56 and I do find it curious that this should happen with a comedy when Bergman’s trademark is something quite different.
The plot of this movie is intricately complex and yet deceptively simple. It is about a group of people who are hooked up with the wrong person and through the resolution get paired correctly. The complexity is the knot these people are tied in and strange route the story takes to the resolution.
The lawyer, Fredrik Egerman, (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a lusty dude. He is married to a girl, Anne (Ulla Jacobsson) who at 19 years is younger than his son Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam) from his first marriage. Despite this he is having an affair with Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck), an actress much closer to his own age whom he also had an affair with after his first wife died (and possibly a son). Fredrik is quite easy and relaxed about his relationships, which is more than you can say about Henrik Egerman. He is in love with Anne, but since that love is forbidden he is trying out for Petra (Harriet Andersson), the lusty maid. Henrik is miserable and filled with guilt and maybe this is why he is studying to become a priest. All that horrible, delicious sin…
Desiree is also having an affair with the officer Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Straight as a board he is the aristocratic officer, correct, but full of pompous, self-important pride and he is not at all happy to find Fredrik in Desiree’s apartment. Carl-Magnus is himself married to Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Margit Carlqvist) in a sort of open relationship. They talk openly of their affairs, but Charlotte is pained by Carl- Magnus escapades, though it is indicated that she has had her own things going on. Charlotte is also a close friend and confident of Anne Egerman.
This is all getting awfully complicated so Desiree invites everybody to a weekend at her family estate, a manor of some status where, with the help of her mother, she wants to set everybody straight.
This is a comedy and a prime objective of a comedy is to get people to laugh. It took some time for me to get there and then I only found it funny in glimpses. Fredrik Egerman facing off Carl-Magnus Malcolm wearing a nightshirt and a silly nightcap was such a moment. His expression was pretty good. But otherwise it was more smiles than laughs with this movie. Part of the explanation is the aging, which is usually hard on comedies, but there may also be a cultural issue. Swedish humor is somewhat different from Danish humor and it was clear to me that parts of this movie would be funnier for a Swede (I apologize to my Swedish readers). That does not mean it was bad, it was just not that funny.
What really works for this movie are the women. Bergman must have found all the most delicious Swedish actresses he could find to work on this movie. They are all glorious, not just for their amazing good looks, but because they act circles around the men. This is their movie definitely. I saw Ulla Jacobsson before in “Hon dansade en sommar”, where she was the image of innocent (and pretty) youth. Harriet Andersson was sexuality incarnate in “Sommaren med Monika” and though I have not met Eva Dahlbeck and Margit Carlqvist before they are entirely up to standard.
The men may think they are in control, but clearly they are pretty ridiculous all of them. The women are manipulating them exactly like they want them and particularly the pompous Fredrik Egerman gets torn to pieces, and that is actually funny. Compared to similar period pieces from central Europe or America it is remarkable how powerful and free the women are here and not just because this is a comedy. It is in the tone and the wording, these are assertive women who take no bullshit and are not afraid to shoot back.
This is a period piece and that nags me a bit. There is no real reason why this should take place around the turn of the century and like most such cases it is done because a) the wealthy in this period are wealthy with style 2) the women can show off elaborate dresses and 3) due to more strict family laws and morality extramarital affairs are more complicated and full of guilt complexes, meaning that in later years you would be less stuck on the wrong partner. However in this movie everybody are openly having affairs with other people and the weekend at Armfeldt feels like a big swinger party so there is not much in terms of prudence and old school morality holding these people back. I would be much more interested to see this story played out in a modern setting, especially so that these gorgeous women need not hide behind those gigantic dresses.
“Sommarnattens leende” is an easy movie to watch and also an easy movie to like. It is a bit fluffy and maybe too light, but that is the point of comedies. I give it a thumbs up and forgive it that I did not laugh that much.