Disc 1: Smiles of a Summer Night
When starting this journey into Bergman’s cinema, I certainly did not expect a sex comedy to be my jumping off point. I can understand why Criterion would want to open this massive collection with a film like Smiles of a Summer Night though. It’s a crowd pleaser that is likely to appeal to a wider audience than much of Bergman’s filmography. Picturing this set as a film festival like Criterion intended does even more to reinforce this choice, given that an opening night film should be one that all can enjoy, before diving deep into a given director’s work or an obscure genre. It is also the film that Bergman himself said made it so that he never had to beg for funding for his films again.
The film itself is lighthearted and funny in a way that I would not have expected, given Bergman’s reputation as a somber and calculated filmmaker. The line, “I can tolerate my wife’s infidelity, but if anyone touches my mistress, I become a tiger” is later repeated with the slight change “I can tolerate my mistress’s infidelity, but if anyone touches my wife, I become a tiger.” With lines like this, the film is able to take the subject of adultery and give it a lighthearted and comedic connotation. After watching this film, I will have to question Bergman’s reputation throughout the rest of the box set. By starting the set in this manner, it seems like Criterion is trying to fight the idea that Bergman is a difficult filmmaker.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this film and am looking forward to diving deeper into the set.
Disc 2: Crisis and A Ship to India
Largely, these films are forgettable, but it is still interesting to see a director like Bergman get his start in movies. Bergman himself often compains about his amateurism in interviews when asked about eithert of these films. I preferred Crisis to A Ship to India, as it is quite competent for a first time director and I found myself quite bored at times with the latter. Although both films do drag at times, I have no regret about watching both this early in my journey.
Disc 3: Wild Strawberries (Opening Night)
Strangely enough after watching this film, I was reminded of a screenplay that a friend and I tried to write while we were still in college. OUr idea was to structure the story around a character that the audience knows very little about while he takes a Greyhound bus across the country. He would meet people along the way, which would get him thinking about the mistakes he made in life and how he pushed away the people that cared about him the most. Obviously, Bergman’s film explores this concept in a much more sincere and interesting way than a couple of college kids could have. In fact, I was really taken aback by the beauty and sincerity of the film. The lead, played by Victor Sjostrom, is not all that likeable for the majority of the film. HIs closest relationship seems to be with his housekeeper who he refers to as a friend, but clearly does not consider her feelings with any of his actions. The film concerns retired doctor, Isak Borg, traveling from Stockholm to LUnd to receive an honorary degree from his alma mater. He travels with his daughter in law, who is pregnant and unhappy with her marriage to the doctor’s son. They meet a group of hitchhikers, who cause the doctor to look back on the failures he has had in his own life, while also learning to appreciate the things he always had.
Much has been made of the fact that the doctor in the film and the director have the same initials: Isak Borg and Ingmar Bergman. I’m not enough of an expert on Bergman’s life to determine whether the film is autobiographical, but I usually believe writers put a certain part of themselves in every character, however small that part is. The theme of regret over one’s life is not exactly uncommon, but this might be the best example of a film I’ve seen using It. After all, the main character is not introduced in the most positive light, yet by the end of the film, I still felt like I could see some of myself in him. I still have quite a few perceived masterpieces yet to watch, but I’m starting to think Bergman’s greatest strength as a filmmaker is his ability to get the audience to empathize with characters that they have very little in common with.
Disc 4: To Joy and Summer Interlude:
According to the book that comes with this set, the theme of this disc is “Love and Death in the Summer.” “To Joy” begins with a man named Stig, who finds out his wife has been killed in an accident. He begins to ponder their life together, beginning with a time where they were both violinists in the same orchestra. Stig realizes that he never appreciated her and often treated her badly. He is unfaithful and keeps doing it after admitting it to her and even is shown hitting her once. Throughout, she gets angry with him for his behavior, but never leaves him. By the time he finally realizes how much she means to him, it is too late, but he still has his children. Despite never wanting to have children, they are the only thing he is left with to remember his wife by.
In a similar vein, Summer Interlude is the story of someone reminiscing about love. In this film, it’s a prima ballerina reminiscing about her first love after unexpectedly receiving his diary. The film also draws from musical inspiration, much like To Joy, but this time it’s Swan Lake. I didn’t watch these as a double feature, but I think it would have been a better experience that way. I enjoyed Summer Interlude a bit more than To Joy, despite their many similarities. I found the death of the lover to hit harder in this film, which is strange because in the other they were married with children and in this they were just young lovers. The main character is not really able to experience true happiness for a long time after her lover’s death. Her grief is taken advantage of by an older man who also loved her mother. She is able to reconcile her emotions a bit by the end, which is not always the case in a Bergman film, making it fit with the other less bleak films in the opening night portion of this set.
Disc 5: Summer with Monika
Disc 6: Dreams and A Lesson in Love