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MOVIE REVIEW : Bergman Provides a Few Smiles on a ‘Summer Night’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ingmar Bergman isn’t usually associated with comedy. With such films as “The Seventh Seal” and “Wild Strawberries” at the top of his library, he’s more known for tracking the introspective side of people.

But in 1955, Bergman turned almost giddy with “Smiles of a Summer Night.” The movie, screening tonight as the final offering of UC Irvine’s “Eclectic Flicks” series, is his funniest work--and also one of his best.

With traditional elements of farce balanced by Bergman’s characteristic intelligence, “Smiles of a Summer Night” is a rare comedy. It plays with both the romping feelings of romance and the impossibility of idealized, perfect love with the ease of flirtation.

The movie’s elegance is especially remarkable considering its structure. To describe the plot is to make “Smiles of a Summer Night” sound more complicated than it really is. A lot of emotions pass between middle-aged lawyer Fredrik (Gunnar Bjornstrand) and his constellation of lovers, relatives, friends and enemies, but Bergman keeps it all from becoming haphazard.

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The story builds toward a weekend in the country at the home of Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck), a famous actress and Fredrik’s former lover. She’s arranged the gathering to steal Fredrik from wife Anne (Ulla Bjornstrand), almost a child-bride who remains a virgin after two years of marriage. Also invited are Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jarl Kulle) and his wife, Charlotte (Margit Carlquist). The count, an imperious blowhard with a dueling hobby, happens to be Desiree’s lover.

Bergman sets up the various encounters through the first half of the film, as we see what everybody means to one another and have an idea what’s at stake. Love, or the illusion of it, is the tie that binds. Bergman presents an array of romantic points-of-view--as critic John Simon put it, the film uses “great skill and finesse (to examine) the entire spectrum of attitudes toward love as they vary according to age and social status.”

Simon wasn’t alone in his admiration. Woody Allen liked “Smiles of a Summer Night” so much that he parodied it with his 1982 movie, “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” starring Allen, Mia Farrow and Mary Steenburgen. Stephen Sondheim was also impressed, using the film as inspiration for his 1973 musical, “A Little Night Music.”


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