bergman week #2: three smiles and we're out!

What's this? A second installment in a week of watching Bergman films and blogging about each one, just for the sheer entertainment value to readers who completely don't care about Bergman? Um, yes.

Today: Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

The first thing I noticed was that Bergman did not know the title of his own film, which he insists on calling ‘Sommarnattens leende’. This is not English. What’s more, the characters don’t speak English, which infuriated me. Their lines are displayed in English at the bottom of the screen; why didn’t they just look down and read their lines? Instead they speak in a series of syllables that hover on the edge of comprehensibility. I call shenanigans on Bergman and his attempt to inject some arty pretentiousness into a light comedy.

Also, these people live in a terrible place that has no colour, and their faces are entirely drained of colour, so they must be sick. In keeping with the charcoal landscape, their clothes and homes are shades of grey as well. Why are we watching sick people who can’t read English? Is Bergman making a social statement of some kind? Surely the turn-of-the-century bourgeoisie was a healthier and better educated class than he portrays here.

I’m not sure if the stature of the actors is related to their obvious illness – what’s going on there, the plague? – but I couldn’t help noticing that every actor was extremely small. By and large, not one of them measured greater than six inches. Sometimes their faces would swell grotesquely and grow so huge that I couldn’t even see their bodies, and then instantly they would assume their normal, if tiny, proportions. To make the situation even worse, sometimes they would try to perpetrate the illusion of walking closer to or farther from me by slowly expanding or shrinking. It was so obvious that these people lived solely on a two-dimensional surface (they’re also shockingly thin). Frankly, it was a bit embarrassing to watch them go to such lengths to convince me that they lived in a three-dimensional space.

And while we’re on the subject, I’ve had it with characters that walk to the left or right and then vanish off the side of the screen. Where do they go? They must have to crowd together terribly in that tiny offscreen space. I don’t care how skinny you are, it must be a terrible ordeal. Ever since I realized that I could never clean out all the little dead Marios that fell beneath the bottom edge of my TV screen, I’ve campaigned to television manufacturers for more offscreen space, but with the advent of flat-panel TVs, I fear the situation is not going to get better any time soon.

On to the story. Smiles Of A Summer Night is a shockingly indecent tale of moral turpitude and sexual perfidy disguised as comedy. What’s funny about sex, I ask you? Sex is for making babies. Making babies is funny to you, Bergman? Outside of an Anne Geddes photo, are babies themselves funny? No. But those Anne Geddes pictures – ha ha. Did you see the one where they’re all dressed up like flowers in a pumpkin patch? OMG funny. If she made a film there wouldn’t be all this naughtiness – just funny babies.

The movie starts with Frederik Egerman, who seems like a really decent guy. He’s a middle-aged man married to a teenage girl, which is really wholesome, and his son Henrik is entering the priesthood! I had a lot of respect for the Egerman family, until it turns out that the decent guy is actually pining after an actress named Desiree (!) Almfeldt. Then it turns out that Henrik is lusting after Petra the Maid, who exposes herself to a man of God! Um, hello. As for Anna – I can’t even talk about it. But it gets way worse.

Desiree Almfeldt is an actress (or slut) who lives alone but has a child (because she is a slut). She even has a married lover (on account of her sluttiness). It’s pretty clear that she’s putting the moves on Frederik Egerman, even as she parades her manwhore around. Meanwhile, Mr. Manwhore has a young wife who’ll jump anyone if it suits her purposes. Dens of iniquity wouldn’t let these libertines through their fuzzy doors.

Then the movie takes a strange turn that I suspect is Satanic. Desiree’s mother invites everyone to her country estate and offers them a “magical wine” (coughSatansbloodcough) to release their inhibitions. And then all hell breaks loose in a long sleepless night that keeps everyone running around until dawn. At some point I stopped keeping track of all the ‘moist meetings’ going on in this film. Liberal critics like to say that the ending is ‘happy’.

Happy? Sure, if you think that having sex with people outside of wedlock is what makes you ‘happy’. Statistics show that at least 75% of the people in this film will eventually commit suicide from the stress of a godless lifestyle. This film is more scandalous than Notting Hill and Moonstruck put together.