Last week at the foreign film festival, Dr. Pease showed Smiles of a Summer Night by Ingmar Bergman. Unlike some of the more tragic films this semester, this one was a witty comedy centering on dark themes like suicide, infidelity and seduction. Smiles of a Summer Night can be viewed as a quasi-pastoral comedy that ends with the rearrangement of three couples.
The movie followed the lawyer Fredrik Egerman as he dealt with his prudish son, an abstinent wife, a sexy ex-mistress and a pompous Count. The plot followed many notions found in pastoral comedy: from the lower class fool with cutting social commentary, to the escape from the deceptive city into the ideal, rural world and ending with the joining of estranged lovers.
In 1955, Bergman took a blunt approach to human sexuality and animalistic passions without being juvenile or pornographic. At the same time, in the United States, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo conceived a child while sleeping in separate beds. This sort of repressed sexuality in the US may explain the non-linear transformation of a Pleasantville-esque Hollywood to one that puts out movies like Animal House and The 40 Year Old Virgin. Movies that rely on shock humor rather than clever dialog or witty writing.
The primary conflict comes from friction between characters without and from within. Henrik, Fredrik’s son, recites Martin Luther’s teachings of virtue to his maid just before sleeping with her. One of the best scenes was between the Count and Fredrik’s civil discussion while in the home of a mutual mistress. When the mistress finally left, the Count became considerably less civil.
Dr. Pease explained that the darker themes of this comedy may be a reflection of the director’s personal life. Prior to Smiles of a Summer Night, Bergman put out some unsuccessful films and received scrutiny from his producers. He was confronted with two options: make a successful movie, or kill himself. Thankfully, he chose the former.
In the movie, Bergman used a suicide attempt to unite the melancholy Henrik with his true love: his stepmother. Don’t worry folks, they’re about the same age.
Today and tonight, Dr. Pease will be showing The Exterminating Angel by Luis Bunuel. Next week is an Italian film, The Battle of Algiers (La battaglia di Algeri) by Gillo Pontecorvo.
The film festival is continuing every Tuesday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. in the Evans building room 105. All students and faculty are invited. Admission is free to anyone interested. Until then, see you at the movies!