Smiling on Bergman’s White Night

April 6, 2010 at 10:59 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

I think I might have enjoyed Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy a little more if I’d watched it after seeing Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night. This was the inspiration for Allen’s film, and Bergman was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was easier to see the progression once I’d watched Bergman’s film.

Smiles of a Summer Night is delightful. It begins a bit slowly, but it builds and the second half is wonderful. Really, I think if I had the time to watch it again I’d get a lot more out of it. It’s a really nice film with some very funny moments. In my opinion, it’s much better than the Woody Allen film.

It takes place in Sweden in the early 1900s. The taciturn Fredrik (Gunnar Björnstrand) is married to the extremely young and lovely Anne (Ulla Jacobsson). Complications abound in every direction. Fredrik and Anne have been married for two years, but have not yet had sex. Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck), a former mistress of Fredrik’s, comes to town, and seeing her again fans the old flames for both of them.

However, Desiree is having an affair with the jealous Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle). Malcolm’s wife Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist) is, in turn, very jealous of Desiree and wants her husband to herself. Meanwhile Fredrik’s angst-filled son Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam) is sowing a few wild oats with the lusty maid Petra (Harriet Andersson) while peering at his step-mom Anne with puppy dog eyes. Oh what a tangled web!

Desiree decides she wants to marry Fredrik (who may or may not be the father of her child) and she hatches a plan for her elderly mother to invite everyone for an overnight party at her country house. There is a pivotal dinner scene where Desiree seats everyone according to her plan. A little magic enters into the movie here, as Desiree’s mother tells a legend about the magical properties of the wine they are drinking. Each person seems to have something specific on their mind as they drink down the wine.

Well, if you got through all that, believe me, it’s not that complicated to keep track of while you’re watching. And it’s all pretty funny. There are some great scenes, like one where Count Malcolm makes Fredrik go home in his borrowed nightshirt. I think the funniest scene involves the trick bed that moves back and forth between rooms. It comes in pretty handy, let me tell you! And adding another comic element is the maid Petra who spends a lusty night under the midnight sun with Frid (Åke Fridell).

I liked that this film revolves around the female characters—they are much more likable than the male characters, and they move the plot forward. I also thought they were drop-dead gorgeous and the evening gowns they wear (even in black and white) are incredible.

This film is not directly Shakespearean, but it’s not hard to see how it was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the changing partners, the fickleness, the magic night. This is a very watchable film. It’s available on Netflix (streaming and DVD) in Swedish with English subtitles.

I finished reading through the text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream a couple days ago. I want to read it a second time before I begin commenting on it. I also have several more film versions in my queue to watch. If you have any film recommendations, be sure to let me know.

Also, note that I added some photos to my Tom Hanks post, courtesy of the Great Lakes Theater Festival.

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