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Smiles Of A Summer Night (1955)

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When I asked Roommate Russ if he wanted to watch this with me, I described it as “a bedroom farce by Ingmar Bergman.” That description flummoxed him so much that he didn’t speak for a full ten seconds.

Okay, I went for the obvious joke there. But it’s been interesting for me to get a look at the earlier films by so many Titans Of Filmmaking – people I’ve only known by reputation, or at the end of their careers. And Bergman is one – I’ve always had the impression that he did these very serious moody films, when his earlier career was a bit fluffier.

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For example, this film. Frederik (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a middle-aged lawyer, who remarried the much younger Anne (Ulla Jacobson) when his first wife died. However, he played around a bit before he did, and for a while was hooking up with the glamorous actress Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck); and, in truth, still carries a torch for Desiree and still sneaks out to canoodle with her now and then. Anne is unaware, but she’s innocent about a lot of things – she was so young when she and Frederik married that the thought of sex scared her, and the marriage has been unconsummated for two years. She’s also struck up what she thinks is an innocent friendship with Frederik’s adult son Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam), a dour divinity student tortured by some un-familial feeling towards his stepmom (and occasionally taking it out on the family’s uncomplicated and flirtatious maid).

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Meanwhile, Desiree is also hooking up with an army officer, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jarl Kulle). Carl-Magnus is also married, and also married someone younger; his wife, Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist), is a school chum of Anne’s. But Carl-Magnus doesn’t hide his affairs. Charlotte puts up a snarky front, but is secretly devastated over Carl-Magnus’ infidelity. Not that Carl-Magnus would notice anyway – he’s too distracted by the fact that he caught Frederik at Desiree’s place one night and is feeling pretty territorial.

It’s clearly a big mess that’s satisfying no one, and Desiree has had it. She throws a lavish Midsummer-Night party at her mother’s estate for Frederik and Carl-Magnus’ whole families, adds a lot of wine, and stands back, letting nature take its course and the various mis-matched lovers sort themselves out.

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Yeah, see? A bedroom farce. Not that we actually see much sex – the most we see is some ardent but clothed cuddling between Frederik and Anne, and the maid Petra almost flashing Henrik (someone comes in and interrupts). The farce stays modest too; there’s some schtick about a bed sliding through a trap door and some fluff about Fredrik ending up in Carl-Magnus’ nightshirt; but while silly, they’re only a bit silly, and still pretty chaste. There’s a good deal of wink-wink nudge-nudge quipping – for everyone, even Desiree’s mother (Naima Wifstrand), whom we meet primly bundled up in her bed playing Solitaire as Desiree plots her party. But her comments about Desiree’s dilemma prove that she sowed more than a few wild oats in her own time, prompting a bemused Desiree to ask if she’s considered writing her memoirs. “My dear,” Mom says slyly, “I was given this estate for promising not to write my memoirs!”

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So if you only know Bergman by reputation, that is quite unlike what you might expect of him. And what you’re left with is ultimately a cute, gently titillating comedy, where things end pretty happily for everyone (even the maid).

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