Summer Interlude is a Swedish film directed by Ingmar Bergman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Herbert Grevenius. Originally released in 1951, this beautiful meditation on profound loss has been restored and issued by the Criterion Collection. It’s a heartbreakingly poignant story about Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson), a professional ballerina who is jolted into a bittersweet reverie after receiving the diary of a loved one she forced herself to forget.
Henrik (Birger Malmsten), an athletic, agreeable teen with an ever-present shaggy poodle named Gruffman, was Marie’s first love and the author of said diary. The story alternates between Marie as an unhappy adult, rehearsing for the ballet Swan Lake, and a youthful, carefree teen, enjoying a golden summer with Henrik. As we see through flashbacks, events take a very tragic turn, which transforms Marie into the emotionally troubled person we meet in the film’s first act.
Until then, Bergman does a remarkably effective job of evoking the warmth of summer, aided significantly by Gunnar Fischer’s cinematography. Though basically a realistic film throughout, a touch of fantastic escapism is thrown in at one point when Marie, enjoying a quiet moment with Henrik, doodles on a record sleeve. Her drawing magically springs to life, with a short animated sequence unfolding before them. It’s a moment that represents the seemingly limitless possibilities awaiting optimistic youths, as well as the distortion that creeps into recalled memories, leaving them more perfect than reality actually allows.
Nilsson is pitch-perfect as Marie, completely believable as a wide-eyed innocent as well as a world-weary adult. Malmsten turns in a sturdy performance, though Henrik is essentially a much less interesting and intentionally less fully developed character. Stig Olin has a fairly brief (but incisive) role as the ballet master who sees the adult Marie even more clearly than she sees herself, helping her to finally overcome her debilitating mental block and move forward. As Marie’s “Uncle” Erland (the two character’s aren’t actually related), Georg Funkquist conveys just the right air of creepy lech combined with misguided paternalism.
Somewhat disappointingly, there are no supplemental materials found on Criterion’s Summer Interlude DVD. Swedish cinema specialist and Bergman biographer Peter Cowie contributed an insightful essay for the DVD booklet. The lack of extra features is reflected in the lower list price for this title. The film itself, which is presented in English with Swedish subtitles, is certainly worthy of repeat viewings and is highly recommended.