“I am very fond of Summer Interlude; it is my favourite movie… I don’t mean it’s my best. I don’t know which movie is my best” Bergman speaking of Summer Interlude in a 1960 interview with James Baldwin.
The first thing that struck me about Bergman’s tenth directorial effort Summer Interlude (1951) was just how sharp it looks. From the very first shot, a canted one of a church, every image is both beautifully composed and lovingly shot. Once again, Bergman is peering into another art form. Instead of the orchestra of To Joy (1950), here it is a ballet company. Just like in that film, here Bergman seems to revel in the shooting of another art form. As Wim Wenders’ Pina (2011) recently showed, dance onscreen can look astounding. The dance scenes in this film are glorious with Bergman exploring the way dancers look onscreen, both individually and as part of a collective. He seems especially concerned with the structure of the dancers as they fill up a stage, the manner in which they divide up that space.
The film opens with the ballerina Marie receiving a small package. Inside is a journal which makes her distraught, obviously bringing back strong memories. The rest of the film is essentially a flashback to 13 years into the past, gradually revealing memories of a glorious first love and immense pain to the audience. The story follows Marie and her admirer Henrik as they grow into their love, extremely awkwardly at first. It is a somewhat strange arc to the love story the way it plays out, as they never completely outgrow this awkwardness. This serves to make the beginning of the romance not entirely believable but paradoxically makes the rest of it more so. We can all relate to the awkwardness of early love affairs, fumbling attempts to connect two hearts and that is plain to see in this holiday affair. I have already suggested that the relationship ends in tragedy, and the film actually reveals that fact relatively early on so it is not a massive spoiler. But the fateful moment at which that occurs is truly unexpected, shocking and quite upsetting. I struggle to think of another moment from Bergman thus far which has matched the moment for sheer intensity.
Whilst the narrative gives away where it is going relatively early on, this really interesting film keeps you guessing as to exactly the route it is going to take to get there. It has a similar playfulness with narrative structure as is seen in To Joy. As well, Bergman and those he surrounds himself continue to grow more assured at what they do. Summer Interlude features one of the better soundtracks amongst his first ten features. It is more prominent than in a majority of them, with the soundtrack generally playing a relatively minor role in the others. Here though it is more noticeable, complementing the goings on of the film and the growing relationship. But it also manages to be ominous and intriguing at various points of the film, adding a real flavour to the overall end product. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is truly astounding just how good Bergman’s run is of getting supremely good performances out of his leading ladies. Especially given the fact that in his own personal life Bergman often treated the women in his life with contempt. Here in Summer Interlude Maj-Britt Nilsson as Marie is brilliant, the definite core of the strange whirl of a film that swirls around and encompasses her. Whilst in my opinion, none of these first ten films are what I would call ‘great’ films, there are definite glimpses as to why Bergman would go on to be considered one of the greats of world cinema. As a director, he was always thinking, always creating. In this film there is a gorgeous little piece of animation that seemingly comes from nowhere and adds so much to this film. I think in that one little flourish there is a window into the brilliance that will eventually follow.
Whilst it is not my favourite of his pre-1960 films as it was for Bergman, there is an undeniable charm about Summer Interlude, especially concerning its island setting and central couple. There is also a lot of depth here, exploring how hard it is to comprehend the fact that after a loved one dies, the world essentially goes on unchanged, when you feel like it should have the decency to stop for just a little while. Well worth a look.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
‘The Bergman Files’ Leaderboard
- It Rains on our Love (1946)
- This Can’s Happen Here (1950)
- To Joy (1950)
- Crisis (1946)
- Summer Interlude (1951)
- Port of Call (1948)
- Music in Darkness (1948)
- A Ship Bound for India (1947)
- Prison (1949)
- Thirst (1949)
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