“Let me mourn my youth in peace.”
At the ripe old age of 28, Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) is not only on the downslope of her career as a prima ballerina, she also lives in a world of melancholy, constantly revisiting memories of a love long since lost. Marie has tried to throw herself body and soul into her work (are any film ballerinas not also workaholics?) but when a surprise mail delivery brings her the diary written by her former lover, she can't plie her way out of a prolonged flashback.
Said flashback finds a younger Marie falling for a pleasant but unambitious college student named Henrik (Birger Malmsten) who has no apparent plans except to inherit a lot of money from his too-stubborn-to-die aunt. Henrik's open schedule suits Marie just fine. They retreat to the countryside to soak up every ray of the always-fleeting Scandinavian summer, and to bask in the glow of even more-fleeting young love.
“Summer Interlude” (1951) is now seen as a major turning point in Ingmar Bergman's career, his first intensely personal film (he loosely adapted it from a short story he wrote about a youthful affair of his own) and a movie that pointed the way to what we would come to think of as quintessentially Bergmanesque reveries like “Wild Strawberries.” The film is streaked bittersweet from the outset, and almost plays like a ghost story as the double-exposed image of Henrik's detached head emerges from the pages of the diary.
Nilsson is convincing both as the free-spirited dreamer of the flashbacks and the jaded but not yet burnt-out woman of the present. The choice of professions was a great opportunity for Bergman to mix his love of live performance (the film is bracketed by some impressive rehearsal sequences, never full-blown Hollywood-style productions, but still elegant studies of bodies in motion) with cinema, and also renders the young Marie very much the dramatic equivalent of Victor Sjostrom's aging professor in “Wild Strawberries.” Marie may be less than half the age of Isak Borg (Sjostrom's character), but she has reached the end of her professional identity as surely as he has, and both are irresistibly drawn to look back on what was, knowing it is far from what soon will be.
We know from the start that the affair ends tragically, and seeing it unfold rather abruptly proves to be a disappointment, but as gorgeous as the sun-drenched Swedish coast looks in Gunnar Fischer's immaculate black-and-white photography, we can be forgiving. Bergman's trademarked brooding is tinged with a surprising hopefulness. Even if love can't last, there is still art, and that's not a bad consolation prize.
The film is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The source print isn't pristine as there are a few vertical scratches visible in some scenes, but the damage is fairly minimal. The fine grain structure is pleasing and consistent, and image detail is sharp throughout. Sixty-one years later, “Summer Interlude” looks marvelous in 1080p.
The linear PCM Mono audio track isn't particularly dynamic but it is clean and distortion free. Optional English subtitles support the Swedish audio.
These bare-bones releases are becoming more common for Criterion. The insert booklet features an essay by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie. For the record, my copy arrived without a booklet but I can find no other mention of this being a problem, so I am assuming that was a fluke.
This early turning point for Bergman probably deserves better treatment than this bare-bones release, but Criterion has also released the more loaded “Summer with Monika” the same week. The transfer's very good and hey, how can we not be excited about the one thousandth Bergman title to hit the Criterion collection? Give or take a few.