Ingmar Bergman's passionate, heartbreaking tale of young love is quiet and delicate. Beneath the calm and warmth of a gentle summer, a heart waits to be broken while another turns to stone.
Summer Interlude (1951) ****
dir. Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Maj-Britt Nilsson, Birger Malmsten, Alf Kjellin, Georg Funkquist
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"He was very fond of me and he was such a gentle boy. We used to go out together, walking . . . like the way they do in the country. . . O, the day I heard that, that he was dead!"
-Greta, The Dead by James Joyce
"Isn't that what love is, using people? Maybe that's what hate is--not being able to use people."Sprinkled amidst the ups and downs of life, we encounter distinct periods of time that place the forward movements of our existence on pause. These interludes feel distinct from everything on either side of their beginning and end. They're often pleasant, relaxed or quietly pensive - allowing for reflection upon what has transpired and and consideration of what's to come. This is not to say the interludes are without actions which place the normal course of events in a sort of holding pattern, yet are in and of themselves representative of movements ever-advancing.
-Catherine, Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams
The same can apply even to interludes within the context of live performances of music, theatre or even in the early days of television when used as placeholders between regular programming during technical glitches or when there simply was nothing else to broadcast. That said, the events within the interlude are, more often than not, marked by actions decidedly different from what feels like the normal course of events. They're a transition period that allows growth (or stunting) to occur. They appear in individual lives as well as collective movements in world history; from the all-encompassing down to micro-and-macroscopic) progressions.
As a film, Summer Interlude is a sort of transitional moment in the career of Ingmar Bergman, perhaps the most influential filmmaker in all of film history. Bergman was 33-years-old when the film was released (the same year, amusingly, as Christ's crucifixion and, more importantly His resurrection). Bergman had already been working in cinema as a screenwriter (a damn fine one, at that) and had directed a few "gun for hire" items. This film - itself a story of one woman's interlude in her early years - feels like the first movie that's pure Bergman: the mad, obsessive, probing and deeply personal film artist who, more than any other, placed us so deep into the lives, thoughts, dreams and emotions of any number of now-immortal screen characters.
Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) and Henrik (Birger Malmsten) are two characters who probably deserve to take a place amidst that pantheon of indelible creatures Bergman has etched over his decades of making great cinema. If they take a less lofty spot than some, it's only because the Maestro had so many more years of life experience and artistry ahead of him. Marie is probably the one character closest in age to Bergman at the time. She's 28 and a prima ballerina with the Stockholm Company. Even at this young age, she's terrified of getting older and uncertain about what the future will indeed hold for her. These are clearly doubts Bergman would have understood, if not felt (in obviously different ways) himself.
He no doubt would have also had some experience with (and thoughts about) a character like Marie who shuts herself down emotionally to concentrate (at least seemingly) on her art. Her icy demeanour especially extends to the man who loves her (a journalist played by Alf Kjellin) and inspires a mounting desperation within him to be even more intensely insistent and demanding with respect to their relationship.
Finally, though, what really plagues Marie is an interlude from her past. As a teenager and burgeoning ballerina, she spent a warm summer in a rural area outside of the city. In a handful of extended flashbacks, rendered through a diary written by the shy, frail, teenage boy who loved her deeply during those long-ago days of idyllic summer frolics, Bergman renders a deeply romantic and ultimately tragic love story.
Overall though, Summer Interlude is a love triangle in duplicate. In the present, the triangle involves Marie, the journalist and her sudden reminiscence of the past - before she closed herself off completely to passion. In the flashbacks, the triangle is between Marie, the sweet Henrik and Marie's devotion to her career as a dancer. Though Bergman roots this in the world of an artist, it's certainly universal to anyone who has devoted themselves to their calling to the extent where "normal" human relations are stunted.
There is, too, a long tradition of telling stories - mostly from male artists - about women who feel responsible for decimating the hearts of their lovers in pursuit of their goals, dreams and talents. Bergman, however, takes his place here along with Carl Dreyer, James Joyce, Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and (to a certain extent) his chief influence August Strindberg as an artist who is sensitive to the demands patriarchy places upon women to the extent that the female characters, and Marie in particular, are fraught with feelings of guilt surrounding their choice of freedom over traditional romantic roles - so much so that they seal their emotions deep within them.
Summer Interlude is replete with so many moments of visual beauty and emotional tenderness that it would be difficult to imagine an audience not being deeply moved by both the love story in flashback and the one which occurs in the present tense. And of course, it wouldn't be Bergman without a dollop or two of creepiness - best exemplified by Marie's loathsome Uncle (brilliantly etched by the almost reptilian Georg Funkquist).
It's what I always loved about Bergman. Just when things threaten to get too emotionally tender or even humanistically harrowing, he digs into his back pocket and tosses in some glob of grotesquerie. Uncle Georg is Summer Interlude's equivalent to Ingrid Thulin masturbating and mutilating her genitals in Bergman's Cries and Whispers. Uncle George is a bit tame compared to that, but all Bergman needed was a little time.
And some interludes.
"Summer Interlude" is available on an astonishingly gorgeous Blu-Ray from the visionary Criterion Collection. Replete with a new digital restoration, an uncompressed monaural soundtrack (my favourite!!!), a new English subtitle translation and an essay by Peter Cowie, this is definitely a disc any self-respecting Bergman worshipper will NOT be without."