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January 10, 2006

Two early films by Ingmar Bergman

To Joy/Till Gladje
Ingmar Bergman - 1950
Tartan Video PAL Region 0 DVD

Summer Interlude/Sommarlek
Ingmar Bergman - 1951
Tartan Video PAL Region 0 DVD

There's a moment in Summer Interlude where Maj-Britt Nilsson asks her young suitor, "Do you like wild strawberries?". While there is unintended humor in that line, Summer Interlude also has scenes of intentional humor. One surprising example of this is a scene with Nilsson drawing a cartoon picture of herself and Birgir Malmsten on a record sleeve. The picture becomes animated, somewhat like the early work of Max Fleischer, with the characters being physically elastic and shapes shifting from one form to another. While I have seen most of Ingmar Bergman's films from Summer with Monika, I figured I owed it to myself to see some more early films that are now available on DVD.

In some ways, the two films are not surprising. Themes regarding the meaning of life and art are explored. Relationships are volitile and combustible. Bergman uses several of the same actors in both films as he was to constantly throughout his career. Some of the images would be repeated in other films, such as the use of silhouette long shots. A scene of people dancing outside at night, underneath paper lanterns and fireworks anticipates Smiles of a Summer Night. Even bits of dialogue would appear in future films, such as when Nilsson, following the accidental death of her lover, declares in her anger that "God is dead".

Both films are about artists. To Joy follows a violinist's crisis both as a musician and husband. Early in the film, the violinist, Stig (Stig Olin) gets drunk and insists that the only good art is totally serious. If Olin seems to be speaking on behalf of Bergman, Philip Strick's notes with the DVD explain how biographical To Joy is. In the role of Stig's mentor and conductor is Victor Sjostrom, who was occassionally Bergman's mentor in filmmaking. The film seems to reflect Bergman's uncertainties as a filmmaker. Stig's desire to be a soloist and to achieve greater professional recognition was not disimilar to Bergman's desire for greater artistic and commercial success. In the case of To Joy, the film was not released outside of Sweden until Bergman began achieving greater critical recognition, although it was never released theatrically in the U.S. Taking the use of music as a stand-in for film, Sjostrom reminds Olin that "music is the goal, not the means".

Summer Interlude is one of Bergman's films about memory. In this case, Nilsson plays Maria, a ballet dancer who receives the diary of her first lover. Most of the film is about Maria's meeting with Henrik, a university student, and the evolution from friendship to love. As he would do so in later films, Bergman contrasts the lives of people on and off stage. The linking of love and death is echoed in the featuring of Swan Lake as the ballet, expertly framed by cinematographer Gunnar Fischer. Both To Joy and Summer Interlude offer similar conclusions. In both films, the main character reflects on the tragedies of lost love, and affirm themselves by immersing themselves in their art.

Posted by peter at January 10, 2006 05:34 PM


There is a great section on Summer Interlude in Peter Cowie's book.

Posted by: scottlord at March 14, 2006 06:27 PM

I have just checked out Scott's website which is very informative.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at March 14, 2006 09:52 PM