Smiles of a Summer Night
Entertaining albeit frustrating comedy-drama period-piece from writer-director Ingmar Bergman.
Gunnar Björnstrand plays Fredrik a self-absorbed, middle-aged lawyer with a teenage wife. His teen son contemplates the priesthood while harboring a crush on his stepmother and flirting with the maid. Fredrik’s former flame is Desiree, an actress played by Eva Dahlbeck. Desiree’s paramour is the virile dragoon Count Malcolm played by Jarl Kulle. The Count’s wife is a friend of Fredrik’s wife.
This motley crew converges on Desiree’s familial estate for an overnight party where drama ensues and secrets come to light.
A stacked cast. Dahlbeck proves beyond charming, conjuring a potent mix of knowing eroticism, maternal care, and agency. Kulle’s Count Malcom brought a perpetual smirk to my lips. And Björnstrand makes his egotistical character sympathetic.
I loved the script. The witty dialog elicited laughs, and the drama packed a punch. The Count’s wife delivers an icy soliloquy, bemoaning men that still resonates, and the final sequence between the Count and Fredrik held me riveted.
But the period setting proved distracting. Perhaps it offered contemporary audiences a buffer, lest Bergman’s commentary hit too close to home. But the plot and dialog felt modern, rendering carriages and costumes anachronistic instead of authentic.
Or maybe I’m to blame. Having grown used to the Bergman stock company in more modern fare, perhaps I’m bringing some baggage. Regardless, whether it was Björnstrand’s painted-on hair and beard or the period set dressing, details kept knocking me out of the narrative. But credit to Bergman and company for reeling me back every time.