Summer Interlude (1951) [The Criterion Collection #613] [Re-UP]

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Summer Interlude (1951) [The Criterion Collection #613] [Re-UP]

Summer Interlude (1951)
DVD9 | VIDEO_TS | NTSC 4:3 | 01:36:01 | 6,36 Gb
Audio: Swedish AC3 1.0 @ 384 Kbps | Subtitles: English
Genre: Art-house, Drama | Criterion Collection #613

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Maj-Britt Nilsson, Birger Malmsten, Alf Kjellin

Touching on many of the themes that would define the rest of his legendary career—isolation, performance, the inescapability of the past—Ingmar Bergman’s tenth film was a gentle drift toward true mastery. In one of the director’s great early female roles, Maj-Britt Nilsson beguiles as an accomplished ballet dancer haunted by her tragic youthful affair with a shy, handsome student (Birger Malmsten). Her memories of the sunny, rocky shores of Stockholm’s outer archipelago mingle with scenes from her gloomy present, most of them set in the dark backstage environs of the theater where she works. A film that the director considered a creative turning point, Summer Interlude (Sommarlek) is a reverie about life and death that unites Bergman’s love of theater and cinema.

A fixture of the European art-house cinema of the 1950s, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman was one of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s favorite filmmakers. In 1958, in response to a French retrospective of Bergman’s films (which at the time numbered 19), Godard published an essay in Cahiers du cinema titled “Bergmanorama,” in which he effusively compared Bergman’s work with the films of Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchock, and Roberto Rossellini. While Bergman had already directed several of his most renowned films at that point, including Wild Strawberries (1957) and The Seventh Seal (1957), Godard reserved his most intense praise for Summer Interlude (Sommarlek), which he described as “the most beautiful of films”—the highest commendation possible for Godard.

Summer Interlude (1951) [The Criterion Collection #613] [Re-UP]

It is interesting that Godard was so taken with Summer Interlude because it is not one of Bergman’s most well-known or remembered films, even though it played an important role in shaping his cinematic identity and pointing the direction in which his art would lead for the next four decades. Coming on the heels of This Doesn’t Happen Here (1950), a rather pedestrian spy thriller in the Hitchcock mold, Summer Interlude was a more personal project that derived directly from Bergman’s memories of a summer affair. Bergman himself noted that the film was a turning point in his career, the first time he felt that a film had “obeyed” him: “This was my first film in which I felt I was functioning independently,” he wrote,” with a style of my own, making a film all my own, with a particular appearance of its own.” Perhaps it is this independent spirit, the clear voice of an artist fully emerging into his own celluloid skin, that Godard (and other New Wave directors) sensed in the film. In hindsight, Summer Interlude looks and feels like a number of Bergman’s subsequent (and arguably greater) films, but at the time, it must have seemed like something entirely new.

Summer Interlude (1951) [The Criterion Collection #613] [Re-UP]

The film’s protagonist is Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson), who we first meet as a ballerina who, despite being only in her late 20s, has an air of world-weariness and gloom about her. During a dress rehearsal for Swan Lake (a ballet that has interesting parallels with the film’s themes and characters), a book is delivered to her backstage the turns out to be her diary from 12 years earlier who she spent an idyllic summer on an island in the Stockholm archipelago with a university student, Henrik (Birger Malmsten). She returns to the island and relives the memory her love affair with Henrik, whose absence in the present tense foreshadows some kind of tragedy, either physical or emotional. Bergman conveys the warmth and freedom of the Nordic summer, using the physical environment to reflect and enhance the romantic intensity of Marie and Henrik’s love, which is nevertheless surrounded by intimations of death and corruption, the former in Henrik’s black-garbed, cancer-stricken aunt (Mimi Pollak), and the latter in Erland (Georg Funkquist), Marie’s older, wealthy “uncle” who unabashedly lusts for her.

Summer Interlude (1951) [The Criterion Collection #613] [Re-UP]

The story, which Bergman co-wrote with This Doesn’t Happen Here screenwriter Herbert Grevenius, is built around a rather simple, but exceedingly effective flashback structure that contrasts the dreariness of the present with the beauty of the past, but without slipping into pat generalizations and easy nostalgia. Marie and Henrik’s love is idealized, but only to a point; Nilsson and Malmsten’s performances have the air of youthful ideals and boundless energy, but also the potential for narcissism and impatience (one of their spats involves Henrik’s jealousy of Marie’s commitment to her ballet dancing). In one sequence, Bergman uses crude, but charming stick-figure animation on a record sleeve as a means of conveying how Marie and Henrik envision their future together, a device that seems wildly out of place unless you consider the correlation between the fantasy of animation as a medium and the characters’ fantasy about their lives.

Summer Interlude (1951) [The Criterion Collection #613] [Re-UP]

There is a crucial sense of realism to the characters, even if the film as a whole has a slightly dreamy air to it, almost fairy-tale like. The confluence of realism and fantasy is only one of the major elements of Bergman’s art that is clearly coming into focus in Summer Interlude, which also include a female protagonist (the first in Bergman’s cinema), a psychologically profound use of close-ups, slow dissolves, and a thematic use of the natural environment (most of Bergman’s previous films had been studio-bound). The beauty of the archipelago (wonderfully captured by cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, who shot 13 of Bergman’s films, mostly in the 1950s) reflects Marie and Henrik’s innocence, but also conveys an impending sense of danger. Even in the sunlight, the jagged rocks around the shoreline have a slow-burn menace and there is constant reference to how cold the water is despite the summer month.

Summer Interlude (1951) [The Criterion Collection #613] [Re-UP]

With a supple dramatic intensity, Summer Interlude suggests that the splendor of first love is fleeting—that by its very nature it can (and perhaps should) be only temporary, even though its memory never quite fades away. Although the film is structured around tragedy and lost innocence, it ends on an uplifting note in which returning to the past becomes a means of fully grasping the possibilities of the present. First love may be forever lost, but because Marie opens herself to loving again, the human heart triumphs.
Summer Interlude (1951) [The Criterion Collection #613] [Re-UP]

Special Features:
- New digital restoration
- New English subtitle translation

All Credits goes to Original uploader.

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