Ingmar Bergman: Summer Interlude (1951) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
8Jun/130

Ingmar Bergman: Summer Interlude (1951)

Summer Interlude - Title

Andrew COMMENTARYAn important, and wonderful, friend of mind died last week.  He was barely a year older than my father.  He was supportive, loving, and didn't have a mean bone in his body.

I could go on, but I will write and speak about him another time to another crowd.  For right now I want you to understand why watching movies about Google and a punishment-free crime day aren't as interesting to me.  It seems like whenever things are hard, not depressing or angering, just plain ol' difficult, I turn to Bergman.  There are two fresh films of his sitting on my shelves right now and it seemed like there is no better time to watch them.

Summer Interlude was released in 1951.  This was right after his awkward period of transition between kinda successful and outright failures of cinema like Port of Call and Crisis and leading into his moment of transcendence with Sawdust and Tinsel and The Seventh Seal.  I was not expecting greatness, and Interlude is not great, but the moments where we see the artist Bergman is to become are so wonderful that I forgive the missteps along the way.

Despite the many signs of what's to come, the early years of Henrik and Marie are wonderful to watch.

Despite the many signs of what's to come, the early years of Henrik and Marie are wonderful to watch.

Any doubts that this is a Bergman film are put to bed straight away with the opening shots of an idyllic countryside cottage, some wonderful landscape, and an omnipresent cuckoo clock whirring away in the background.  Already time, clicking away whether I want it to or not, is on my mind even when looking at the beautiful landscape.  The sound whittles the seconds of beauty down until we see a bunch of scuttling theater employees and newsmen talking about a package for the star Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson).  The package contains the diary of Henrik (Birger Malmsten), a young man she had a summer affair with a long time ago.

Since her production of Swan Lake seems plagued with endless problems she decides to take the time to go and visit the seaside cottage where she met him.  From there we spend time with the older Marie as she reminisces and the younger Marie experiencing new sensations with Henrik.  The transition, from bitter older Marie, to the sunny and lascivious younger Marie, shows how much I wish I respected the earlier Bergman acting team.  Many of the performers in Summer Interlude - Nilsson, Malmsten, and Stig Olin - had worked with Bergman since his first film if not slightly later.  Already these performers were able to tune themselves in to whatever Bergman was trying to accomplish, even if he wasn't entirely sure what he wanted.

I could give all the credit to Bergman but the truth is the results come from a two-way street between performer and director.  If these early performers did not trust Bergman to guide them I am certain his overwhelming neurosis, which affected his physical health badly, would have driven him away from film.  The trust is well earned, compare the horrible metaphors of decay as jazz of Crisis to the beauty and pain that comes with the passage of time in Summer Interlude.

Time passes the same for all of us, and beckons to follow. A common theme for Bergman, but that he never faltered on.

Time passes the same for all of us, and beckons to follow. A common theme for Bergman, but that he never faltered on.

The dance sequences hold the key to all this.  In the later period they are arranged motions with specific instruction on what to do and when, but the way Bergman films these sequences shows just how lonely and focused all of the dancers are.  Even if they're moving together they're isolated from one another due to the precision required of their movements.  But earlier they are moments of desire, which may not be spontaneous, but important to youth all the same.

If the dance sequences are the main course, there are some other scenes that serve as delicious alternatives for what's to come.  One moment, which has the older Marie following a shrouded woman when Marie arrives on the island, is a wonderful display of submission to the passage of time.  The younger Marie seems unwilling to follow but does, and the older woman checks to see that Marie is in line because that's what the natural decay does.  Elders lead the younger, the younger takes what they will, and then both fall into nothing.  Many times the youth goes into nothing, either through a cut to the sky or a pan to the sea, and eventually Marie realizes that's all there is.

The isolation in the dance scenes is amazing. I've seen the physical strain focused on before, but rarely how much of an individual effort each performance is.

The isolation in the dance scenes is amazing. I've seen the physical strain focused on before, but rarely how much of an individual effort each performance is.

It was almost impossible for me to watch that moment between Marie and the elderly woman and not think of The Seventh Seal.  Even the dress between the young and elderly made me think of the knight and death in Bergman's later film.  But the connection is an unexpected bonus.  Summer Interlude is a transitional film in many ways for Bergman.  It's one of the first where he is less interested in pitting younger protagonists against an older establishment than showing how one becomes the other whether they like it or not.  Since he starts taking these ideas in more abstract directions instead of putting them in coming-of-age stories he has finally allowed his characters to face the ravages of time - and it's not something to be feared.

Even the more awkward moments, like when Bergman decides to toy with animation for once, make sense.  We all try out different roles in our transition between young to old.  Bergman was finally finding his voice and that comes with a few stumbles, as we all have learned, figuring out how he wants his voice to sound.  As of Summer Interlude, it's damn good.

The Films of Ingmar Bergman

Summer Interlude - PosterSummer Interlude (1951)
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Starring Maj-Britt Nilsson and Birger Malmsten.

Posted by Andrew

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