Summer Interlude (1951)

Ingmar Bergman | 1hr 36min

By the time the world Ingmar Bergman started manifesting his great artistic potential and the world started catching on, he was up to his tenth feature, Summer Interlude. In 1951, it was his brightest film yet, though such tender optimism only makes its inevitable heartbreak land with larger impact. The warm days that young ballerina Marie and college student Henrik spend basking in each other’s love on their tiny Swedish island drift by with idyllic grace, and even within his short 90-minute narrative, Bergman affords them what feels like all the time in the world, right up to the devastating end of their summer vacation.

The contrast between Marie’s sunny memories and the cool remoteness of her present is readily apparent. In place of light clothing and swimming costumes, she now wraps herself up in thick coats, putting up an armour against the cold Swedish winter and the pity of others. In the theatre where she is rehearsing for an upcoming production of Swan Lake though, her pale, austere makeup is what provides that impenetrable cover instead, as she refuses to cave into whatever tragedy we assume unfolded between her and the man whose diary has fallen back into her lap after thirteen years. Since then, she has grown proficient in her art, and much like the use of Beethoven’s music in Bergman’s previous film, To Joy, ballet becomes a creative outpouring of emotion in Summer Interlude where words will not suffice. The stage’s plain grey backdrop forces our attention entirely onto the dancers in front, where Bergman’s depth of field and camera angles keep finding new dimensions to their elegant movements, making for some exquisite displays of choreography.

Beautifully framed extreme close-ups revealing the cold austerity of Marie’s made-up face.
So too does Marie’s clothing in the present day tightly restrain her – very different from the flashbacks.
Like To Joy, Bergman spends a good while revelling in his characters’ artistic expressions. Here it is ballet, and he uses camera angles and depth of field to make it entirely cinematic.

Ultimately though, Marie finds her life thoroughly unfulfilling. Only when the arrival of Henrik’s diary motivates her to catch a ferry back to the island where they fell in love does she recognise what is missing, and romantic long dissolves accompany her as she returns to those old memories. A priest she hasn’t seen since her Confirmation is the first to make an appearance, as if summoned by fate to bridge the gap between the present and the past, and from there the extended flashback described in Summer Interlude’s title starts flowing in picturesque visuals and poetic voiceovers.

“Days like pearls, round and lustrous, thread on a golden string. Days filled with frolic and caresses. Nights of waking dreams. When did we sleep? We had no time for sleep.”

Bergman showing off the rocky shorelines and forests of Sweden in his scenery, setting it up like a woodland fairytale shared between lovers.

Not until this film had Bergman shot the rocky shorelines, towering woodlands, and grassy hills of Sweden with such scenic adoration, turning it into an Eden-like paradise where these Adam and Eve stand-ins swim, kiss, and eat wild berries. So too does his staging of their romance flourish in its tiny tensions and pleasures, creating the first instance of Bergman’s characteristic blocking of parallel faces lying down, with one slightly obscuring the other and creating a visual harmony. Marie’s Uncle Erland remains a slightly disturbing figure here too, as even in one scene where he does not appear onscreen, his presence ruptures a shot of the lovers’ faces nestled against each other, swiftly splitting them up on either side of a door that he is lurking behind.

The iconic parallel faces shot that both Bergman and Agnes Varda would keep returning to, studying the contours of the actors’ profiles.
A smooth camera transition from one romantic close-up into a slightly wider shot that splits them on either side of the door Uncle Erland lurks behind.

Even though Summer Interlude’s narrative remains firmly in the real world, Bergman’s writing hints at the lyrical, philosophical dramas that he was only a few short years away from making at the time, speaking directing to the intersection of spirituality and love in his characters.

“One night, after a scorching summer day of blazing sunlight, there was an immense silence that reached all the way up to the starless vault of heaven. The silence between us was immense as well.”

So too does he weave melancholy metaphors into his screenplay with astounding fluency, as this intimate dream draws to a close along with the warm weather, foreshadowing colder days on the horizon.

“Can you feel autumn on the air?”

It is not some tragic character flaw or adversary which destroys these lovers, but simply a moment of poor judgement and fortune. Henrik’s jump into shallow water leaves him badly injured, and after Bergman tilts his camera up to a cloud hanging above, a graphic match cut to his head lying on his deathbed touchingly makes him one with the heavens.

A tragic graphic match cut upon Henrik’s premature death.
It’s always about the blocking for Bergman, getting adventurous here with the use of mirrors to place Marie side by side with the Ballet Master.

Marie’s pilgrimage back to the island of her youth in the present day is merely the start of her journey back into the world as she used to know it – a happier, more welcoming place, brimming with opportunities. It is rather by engaging with the personal entries in Henrik’s diary that this is made possible, and by sharing those memories with her new boyfriend, David, she can finally open herself to the affections of others again. Her internal monologue as she wipes off her makeup in the dressing room mirror is a totally unnecessary addition to the scene, as Maj-Britt Nilsson’s expressive face tells us everything about this transformation, smiling and playfully pulling faces at her reflection. Marie and Henrik aren’t the first lovers in a Bergman film to be brutally torn apart, but they are first to be developed with such visual splendour and warmth, romantically calling back to those innocent summers of youth that seemed to go on forever.

Summer Interlude is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.

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