DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Smiles Of A Summer Night - The Criterion Collection.

Herb Kane

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Smiles Of A Summer Night
The Criterion Collection



Studio: Criterion
Year: 1955
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 108 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
Audio: DD Monaural
Color/B&W: B&W
Languages: Swedish
Subtitles: English
MSRP: $29.95
Package: Keep Case





The Feature:
The next couple of months are rather ambitious ones for Criterion with even more releases announced just in the past couple of days. There are four titles due to be released in May alone which include, Fritz Lang’s The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse, Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum, Akira Kurosawa’s, Stray Dog and the feature film, Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles Of A Summer Night, winner of the 1956 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Atypical of Ingmar Bergman’s usually dark and somber dramas, Smiles Of A Summer Night is touted as being a comedy – a romantic comedy which unfolds in a small town at the turn of the century. Fredrik Egerman (played by Gunnar Björnstrand) is an affluent attorney who lives with his very young wife Anne (played by Ulla Jacobsson) and his troubled son from a previous marriage, Henrik (played by Björn Bjelvenstam). Although Fredrik loves his beautiful wife Anne in an almost parental kind of way, it seems as though his young virginal wife has fallen out of love with him and is becoming increasingly sexually inquisitive. She often finds herself turning to their gorgeous and experienced maid, Petra (played by Harriet Andersson) for advice and guidance.

After Fredrik visits his ex mistress, a beautiful and famous actress, Desirée Armfeldt (played by Eva Dahlbeck), he quickly realizes that he is still in love with her and starts spending a great deal of time with her. In fact during the initial rendezvous, Fredrik lands in a puddle and is soaked to the bone. During an awkward encounter, Desirée’s jealous boyfriend, Carl-Magnus Malcolm (played by Jarl Kulle) who happens to be married to Anne's best friend, Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist), shows up only to find Fredrik sporting his night shirt and robe.

Desirée invites the entire clan of dysfunctional lovers, and their families to her wealthy mother’s estate for a rather peculiar and unorthodox getaway resulting in a number of revelations of everyone’s true sentiments. Along the way, new relationships are forged, old relationships end but not without a few surprises, some of which are not necessarily as comedic as you might think.

Apparently a huge fan of Bergman, Woody Allen based his A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy on this charming, somewhat light-hearted romantic comedy. While I wouldn’t necessarily call this movie a typical comedy, the plot is of little consequence as this sardonic morality story about four couples who represent different stages of love. The film sometimes depicts expressionless comedy, while other times showing a dark introspective look at those looking for love. The film is not impervious to Bergman's reputation and touch for the dark and serious which in this case includes a suicide attempt and an edge-of-your seat game of Russian roulette. One thing is for sure however, regardless of your feelings for this film, rarely will you ever get the opportunity to see four women who are more beautiful in a single movie.

The Feature: 3.5/5




Video:
This is a super looking transfer that is presented in its original AR of 1.33:1. Black levels were extremely deep, falling just short of near perfect. Whites were for the most part, clean and stark. There was a decent sense of shadow detail and a grayscale that was equally impressive.

Image detail was slightly soft throughout the entire film, with occasional instances of sharpness. Overall, very pleasing. There was a reasonable amount of depth and dimensionality to the picture rendering a nice film-like image.

There was a minimal amount of fine to moderate film grain throughout the picture which was appropriate. There were occasional instances of dust, debris and dirt that remained but never became intrusive or distracting. Scratches were minimal. Light shimmer was rarely evident and thankfully, there were no signs of any compression errors or artifacting etc.

Overall, a very nice job.

Video: 4/5




Audio:
The soundtrack provided is a Dolby Digital monaural track that does an admirable job of completing the task.

There was a very minor hiss that was noticeable for the duration of the film – but I need to stress, it was minimal and barely worth mentioning. The rest of the track sounded clean and was free of any popping or crackling.

The overall sound of the track was rather natural – bordering on slightly raw but never became edgy or shrill. The clarity of dialogue was crystal clear and bold (although admittedly, my Swedish isn’t what it used to be…).

The entire film is basically dialogue driven, so there isn’t a lot in terms of dynamic range - all of which is pretty basic, but problem free.

Audio: 3.5/5




Special Features:
There aren’t many supplements included on this disc, but we start off with:
[*] An Introduction by Ingmar Bergman, which is a brief introduction by the aging director who focuses his comments on the film’s success at the Cannes Film Festival award and how he was unaware it was even entered. He claims he learned of its success reading the newspaper while sitting on the toilet. Shot in 2003, this is interesting but very brief. Duration: 3:51 minutes.
[*] Up next is Peter Cowie and Jörn Donner in a feature that was produced by Criterion in 2003. The Bergman biographer, Cowie and longtime friend and associate Donner discuss the origins of the film, as well as various techniques that were employed. The importance of the film is also discussed as Smiles Of A Summer Night came on the heels of two commercial flops with SoaSN being the breakthrough film which landed him worldwide acclaim. This is a nice little feature – too bad it wasn’t longer. Duration: 16:48 minutes.
[*] The Swedish Theatrical Trailer is also included which is in decent shape. Duration: 2:01 minutes.
[*] Lastly, there is a 22 page booklet insert which includes various Chapter Listings, Cast & Crew credits, a 1961 review of the film by Pauline Kael from her book, I Lost It At The Movies and a detailed essay by John Simon, who is currently the theater critic for the New York magazine, and was formerly the film critic for the National Review for 21 years.

Special Features: 3/5


**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



Final Thoughts:
Smiles Of A Summer Night is a stark contrast from the style of films usually acquainted with Ingmar Bergman. That’s not necessarily a bad thing - it’s just different. While I enjoyed this film, I have to admit when it was over I felt somewhat disappointed. Not in the “let down” sense of disappointment, but from a perspective that perhaps the film fell just short of my comedic expectations. The film has its fair share of comedic ingredients, but the ingredients are darker than anticipated which brings with it, a serious undercurrent. I’ve read that the film needs multiple viewings to be appreciated and I look forward to spending more time with it in the future.

Even though the special features are rather sparse, the A/V presentation of Smiles Of A Summer Night is excellent. I have every bit of confidence that fans of the film and Bergman aficionados will be delighted.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (not an average)





Release Date: May 25th, 2004
 

Al (alweho)

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Thank you for the review Herb.


And it's also the basis for the Steven Sondheim musical "A Little Night Music," which featured the now (in)famous "Send in the Clowns." Alas, while the stage version was quite successful, the movie of the show (a Hal Prince directorial misfire) was a major disappointment.

I'm a little bit surprised no one seems to mention the above in any of the reviews I've seen, as it could be argued this charming story may have reached a larger audience via the musical and its various cast recordings than the original movie ever did.
 

Lew Crippen

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Thanks Herb. It is great to finally see some Criterion reviews.
 

Zen Butler

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Herb, another stellar review under your belt. The Criterion reviews are so pleasing. I have always found this one quite charming. This is a critical purchase for me. Better after a few runs.
 

ShaunS

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Herb,



Great news. I hate it when "film" is removed from my films.


Great review. I've had this on preorder for awhile. Can't wait.

ShaunS
 

Brook K

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I love Smiles, it contains some wonderful romantic material. Good to hear it's a quality disc, but I already have the R2 UK edition and will skip the minimal upgrade.
 

Herb Kane

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I don't know what's worse... removing grain or the film...
 

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