So, this is my final entry in my Bergman diary and it’s been a wonderful journey. I came into this not really convinced that I would enjoy any of Bergman’s films, but I was so very, very wrong. I have enjoyed almost every film I have watched, although there’s been a couple I have not enjoyed as much as others, but they have had moments and scenes that are incredibly moving, visually stunning and pure cinematic art.
I decided to finish my Bergman diary by watching the 1951 romantic drama, Summer Interlude. Those who know me, know that I am not a fan of romantic films, but I decided to make an expectation for this film, I mean it is written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, so surely it won’t be your usual deary affair?
Summer Interlude is about Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson), who is a successful but emotionally distant prima ballerina in her late twenties. She’s closed off from those around her and never lets anyone get close to her. During a problem-filled dress rehearsal day for a production of the ballet Swan Lake, she is unexpectedly sent the diary of her first love. A college boy called Henrik (Birger Malmsten) whom she met and fell in love with while visiting her Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Erland’s house on a summer vacation thirteen years before.
With the cancellation of the dress rehearsal until the evening Marie takes a boat across to the island, where she conducted her relationship with Henrik and remembers their playful and carefree relationship. What unfolds on-screen is a flashback to all those years ago, and we witness the relationship between the two adolescents unfold. And we discover what occurred in order to make Marie so cut off from her emotions, and what happened to her relationship with Henrik.
What I find interesting about Summer Interlude, is that when watching the film I could see many of Bergman’s stylistic themes were established in this early work. Including setting many of his films in the summer months (Smiles of a Summer Night); idyllic, youthful romance and the eventual loss of innocence (Summer with Monika); and a loss of faith in God (Winter Light). In one sequence, Henrik and Marie pick wild strawberries together, of course we would see a similar scene play out in Wild Strawberries. And in one scene we witness Henrik’s Aunt playing chess with a priest, which prefigures the famous chess match between a knight and Death himself in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957).
The reviews were highly enthusiastic for Summer Interlude, and it was Bergman’s first critical success as a film director. With Jean-Luc Godard stating: “There are five or six films in the history of the cinema which one wants to review simply by saying, ‘It is the most beautiful of films.’ Because there can be no higher praise… I love Summer Interlude.” And Pauline Kael also wrote the following: “Bergman found his style in this film, and it is regarded by cinema historians not only as his breakthrough but also as the beginning of ‘a new, great epoch in Swedish films.’ Many of the themes (whatever one thinks of them) that Bergman later expanded are here… this movie, with its rapturous yet ruined love affair, also has a lighter side: an elegiac grace and sweetness.”
The film’s ending is quite positive, and because of its narrative, strong performances and mise-en-scene. I would strongly recommend that if people are looking to for a Ingmar Bergman film to watch as one of their firsts – Summer Interlude may be the right one for them. Maj-Britt Nilsson paved the way for the likes of Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullman, and Bibi Andersson, with her performance of a strong, complex woman struggling with her own internal identity. Summer Interlude is Bergman’s creative turning point, a wonderful film that deals with life and death, it is worth seeking out. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.