One of Ingmar Bergman’s most notable early films, Summer Interlude is a poignant, beautiful meditation on love, art, and the inexorability of growing old and death. Bergman captures the bittersweet nature of life’s fleeting moments — seen physically in the natural beauty of a brief Swedish summer — with stunning clarity, making for a film that is emotionally devastating and serenely optimistic at the same time.
Bergman makes exceptional use of Maj-Britt Nilsson as Marie, a ballet dancer whose mind is transported to the past with the discovery of an old lover’s diary. Bergman often shoots Nilsson’s face in tight close-ups. In the present, her face is caked thick with stage makeup and a look of resignation, and her friend laments the loss of their youth. Flashbacks to a summer spent on an island near the outer edge of Stockholm see Nilsson’s face framed tightly as well, but here, she is fresh-faced and natural, sporting an irrepressible grin and the anticipation of youth, as she trains to become a dancer.
It’s on this summer retreat where she meets Henrik (Birger Malmsten), a self-pitying student who falls for her, but is convinced she could never love him back. And yet she does, tumbling into a short-lived but exuberant affair that’s more a signal for the blissful naiveté of youth and warm nostalgia for the past than it is a fully fleshed-out character development.
These memories stand in stark contrast to the present, where Marie’s dour, defeated mood is masked by the artifice of the stage, where she must conform to a part no matter her personal feelings at the moment. Eventually though, it seems as if Marie is able to reconcile both her memories and the present, and in the film’s final scene — a performance of Swan Lake — embrace art as a life-giving force. One could read the film’s ending as cynical or genuine I suppose, but there’s no denying the emotional weight Bergman achieves either way.
The Blu-ray Disc
Criterion presents Summer Interlude in a 1080p high definition transfer in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. With the original negative lost, this transfer had to be cobbled together from two different 35mm duplicate negative sources, each with its own problems of mold and shrinkage. And yet, looking at this luminous presentation, it would be hard to believe the troubled restoration process. While there are a few instances of somewhat heavy damage, mostly the image looks near pristine, with extraordinary clarity and sharpness throughout. Blacks are deep and rich, while whites are clean and stable. There’s a nice celluloid-like layer of film grain on the image and fine detail is strong both in close-ups and long shots. Criterion has done a marvelous job with this transfer, especially when one considers the condition of the original materials.
Audio is presented in an uncompressed monaural track that has some minor hissing that pops up, but is otherwise clean and clear.
A lower-tier, lower-priced Criterion release, Summer Interlude is granted no extras on the disc, but includes a booklet with an essay by scholar and Bergman expert Peter Cowie.
The Bottom Line
A superb early work by Ingmar Bergman is given a gorgeous transfer — what’s not to like?