Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Date With Ingmar Bergman - Summer Interlude

If you're feeling melancholic and under the weather, Ingmar Bergman isn't the answer to your blues. However, his 1951 "Summer Interlude" seems different from the Swedish film master's other ouvres.

Bergman is known for an influential body of work that deals with despair and sorrow. "Summer Interlude" (aka "Illicit Interlude") on the other hand recalls an Indian summer when a talented young ballerina Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) meets an infatuated university lad Henrik (Birger Malmsten) during their summer break. It is an introspective summer romance in the vein of "The Notebook" and "Dear John", albeit simplistically told. But in true Bergman fashion, tragedy soon catches up with our protagonists.

What stirs us is how Bergman tells his story in a straight forward manner. There is not much sentimentality in the way the scenes play out, I somehow wondered if such dry exposition would be able to sustain my interest. This, after all, isn't "Fanny and Alexander"(1982) or "Wild Strawberries" (1957). Though the story started out slow (an older Marie gets hold of Henrik's diary), the compelling romance - retold in a series of flashbacks - soon embraced us.

The lovers both exude dreamy countenance, and they're quite uninhibited with their emotions. Their frolic by the river or at the wild strawberry field depicts the raw charm of how incipient affections come about. Spectacular cinematography immensely helped in translating an atmosphere of frivolity and youthful exuberance - without much skin (though there were several scenes of Nilsson and Malmsten donning their swim suits). Unfortunately, some scenes appear a bit dated. To be fair, they would have been risky back in 1951. My minor gripe was the easy resolution of how Marie swiftly overcame her grief as the film drew to its conclusion. Sure, it had been more than a decade since the tragic incident, but the arc with which Marie swung from sulking to relief was too abrupt.

Lastly, the film made me want to celebrate the masterful beauty of its photography - this, despite limitations of technology in 1951. Almost 60 years later, Summer Interlude still overpowers with visual aptitude, specifically in comparison to many of our local films' "visual quality" (or the lack thereof), such mediocrity shamefully on display in our cineplexes!

Bravo to the master!

Ingmar Bergman


Fredrik said...

Hey, I'm glad you like it. It's one of my two or three Bergman favourites. Partly because of Gunnar Fischer's cinematography. But the best scene for me is the scene at the end in the dressing room, when she and 'Coppelius' talk about suffering and life. And isn't the music exquisite, so much melancholy.
Some Bergman trivia: It's based on something that happened to him in his youth, the girl in the film is based on him. And it's the first film of his where death is seen as a person. And it was one of his own favourite films.

Cathy said...

Loved the trivia. In fact I kept thinking of double meanings between scenes, only to find the narrative pretty straight forward. Thus the trivia is an exquisite information.

My favorite scene was Marie's delicious banter with David (the gorgeous Alf Kjellin) who looks more like a "private dick" (wink! wink!) than a journalist! The flirtatious exchange had this nervous romantic tension: "You have such beautiful round fingers...".

As to the music, I am always partial to the musical score of Michael Nyman in most Peter Greenaway films (too bad I couldn't get a hold of "The Tulse Leper"). Finally, I believe that "Summer Interlude's" strength lies in its luminous cinematography and coherent storytelling.

Thanks for the trivia. It is refreshing to somehow share my love affair with the classics with someone. In this age of digital cinema and 3Ds, not a lot of people discuss the works of a film masters like Bergman.