Of all the classic filmmakers, sadly, Ingmar Bergman is probably the Great that I am the least familiar with. Watching 'Summer Interlude' has opened my eyes to the Bergman education that I desperately need.
'Summer Interlude' is the well-crafted tale of – what I call – "the original 'Black Swan'." No, this isn't a 1951 story of a ballet dancer going crazy – but it's the tale of a ballet dancer who has been socially messed up by her past, her profession and the pressure that comes with it.
Marie is the star of a prestigious Stockholm-based ballet company. A mysterious courier delivers a package to her one night that resurrects her haunting past – a book. We don't know what the book is or what it contains, but the fact that it has turned up in her life has thrown her into a funk. Once freed up from work, she ditches her colleagues and boyfriend to cope with this resurfaced dark memory. Marie hops on a ferry and it's during her ride to a small remote island that we get the first of a sequence of flashbacks that explain who Marie is, how she got to be who she is and what the mysterious book contains.
Marie used to spend her summers free from the ballet on this island with her wealthy aunt and uncle. During a particular summer 13 years prior, Marie met a young man on the island that would forever change her life – Henrik. Shortly after meeting, the two fell in love. They were inseparable, spending every minute of every day together. It was the type of innocent puppy love that one would expect from naïve teenagers; but being adults, their love was genuine and pure. I don't wish to spoil the contents of the book or what happened in the past, so I'll refrain from revealing anything else about the story.
'Summer Interlude' bounces around from the present to well-placed flashbacks. Each time we jump back, the flashbacks tonally coincide with something of an emotional trigger. All of the flashbacks flow chronologically, but they also flow with rising emotional fluidity. The story that unfolds doesn't only grab you with its reel you in by establishing this connection, but it grips you with its narrative. 'Summer Interlude' is not a huge film with a massive reveal or twist, but the ending it quite remarkable considering that, one, you don't see it coming and, two, the context of it is much ahead of its time. There's a reason that Bergman is known as a classic filmmaker; as exemplified in 'Summer Interlude,' he was functioning on an unprecedented level.
Bergman's filmmaking techniques are exceptionally refreshing to watch. Once the film starts, we are effectively thrown right into it. There isn't a series of sequences that sets it up. After the opening credits, the ride immediately begins moving.
Current filmmakers often seem to think they must cut every few seconds to keep the audience's attention. This hasn't always been the case. Old movies were very theatrical – long takes and few cuts. Most of 'Summer Interlude' is filmed in this manner, only even longer takes and fewer cuts. It's like watching live theatre, and like live theatre, a great amount of the show's potential success rests on the actors. I had never heard of either of the leading actors from 'Summer Interlude' (Maj-Britt Nilsson and Birger Malmsten) prior to seeing it, but they are both brilliant.
If you enjoy fine, classic filmmaking and haven't seen 'Summer Interlude,' then this Criterion disc is well-worth checking out. If you are already well-versed in all things Bergman, then you know what I'm talking about. Thank you, Criterion, for bringing another classic to light in these (respectively) young eyes.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Criterion has placed 'Summer Interlude' on a Region A BD-50 in a standard slightly-bulkier-than-normal clear Criterion keepcase. Included in the case is a booklet containing the technical specs of the transfer and an essay about the film by film scholar Peter Cowie. True to Criterion fashion, nothing plays before the main menu.
The 61-year-old 'Summer Interlude' has been brilliantly remastered. Much love has been put into giving this aged and damaged print a fantastic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 Blu-ray.
It's astonishing how much this print has been cleaned up. Dirt and grime is nearly non-existent, and scratches are cleaned up so well that they occasionally leave ghostly scars revealing where they once plagued the print. This is one of the very cleanest old images that I've ever seen. That's not to say that it's 100 percent clean and clear, but the grime and flaws are minimal compared to how the image should look considering the age.
Also leaps and bounds above other titles of its age, 'Summer Interlude' is highly detailed. There aren't too many close-ups throughout the film, but when there are, they show details that I'm certain weren't even visible when the film first opened in 1951. Facial pores and textures are clearly visible in those close-ups. Due to the nature of black & white films, black levels waver in different lighting settings, but often times they're strong, allowing for details to be seen even in the darkest areas of the frame – i.e., black clothing and objects. There are several flaws within the filmmaking style itself – choppy dissolves and shaky camerawork – but it comes with films of that era, not from a bad transfer.
Artifacts and bands aren't an issue. Digital noise isn't a problem either, but that's probably due to the light application of DNR. Edge enhancement is also noticeable during a few scenes and one character's pinstriped suit causes a minor aliasing flicker.
Sadly, the Swedish audio track doesn't offer as many wowing instances because of the format of it's mono linear PCM transfer. As I watched 'Summer Interlude,' I recognized that the audio track is full of opportunities to shine as a 5.1 or a stereo mix.
Set mostly on an island shore, splashing water sounds could easily abound in a bigger mix. Ballet sequences have the potential to cause the mono orchestral live music to be all-enveloping. It's hard to not imagine how much better the sounds could be, but don't think that I'm putting down the mono mix. Considering how much sound stems from just one channel, it's impressive as to how well-balanced the levels are. The music, vocals and effects never trump one another.
Sadly, there isn't a single special feature on this disc.
'Summer Interlude' is a fantastic example of what a strong filmmaker Ingmar Bergman was. You will know exactly why he is deemed of cinema's greats. He tells a deeply intimate story here in a style that seems more fitting with today's advanced standards than with those of the 1960s. It's intriguing personal story is one that easy to become invested in. For the Blu-ray, Criterion has cleaned-up and remastered the video quality so that it's nearly flawless and features more detail than one would expect from a movie this old. The audio is robust, but sadly remains in a mono state. Considering how detailed the audio track is, it very well could have benefited from a stereo / 5.1 upgrade. Even without a single special feature, this is a classic title that I easily recommend.