When Ingmar Bergman Became Ingmar Bergman: 'Summer Interlude'

In Summer Interlude, Ingmar Bergman started using the stylistic themes and profound approaches to his characters that would become his own personal trademark.

Summer Interlude

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Maj-Britt Nilsson, Birger Malmsten, Alf Kjellin
distributor: Criterion
Rated: NR
Release date: 2012-05-29
"There are five or six films in the history of the cinema which one wants to review simply by saying, 'It is the most beautiful of films.' Because there can be no higher praise”.

-- Jean Luc Godard on Summer Interlude

By 1951, 33-year-old Ingmar Bergman had already achieved international fame for his screenplay of Torment, which had been directed by Alf Sjoberg and released in 1944. His talent as a writer opened up the doors of the film industry and soon he was asked to direct. Few of his earlier movies have achieved the popularity and prestige of works like Persona or Scenes from a Marriage, but Summer Interlude is worth revisiting because it might very well be the first movie where Bergman became Bergman.

In Summer Interlude, Bergman started using the stylistic themes and profound approaches to his characters that would become his own personal trademark. As usual, his plot is rather simple and straightforward; the film opens inside a theater where a group of ballerinas are in rehearsals for Swan Lake. Prima ballerina Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) receives a mysterious parcel which turns out to be the diary of Henrik (Birger Malmsten), her first love whom she met more than a decade before.

Moved by the strangeness of the delivery, Marie takes a boat to the island where she met Henrik and proceeds to visit the places where they conducted their romance. We learn that the reason for her melancholy is that their affair ended tragically and it seems as if Marie has spent the rest of her life trying to move past the painful memories.

With this exploration of an artist’s soul, Bergman makes us wonder whether art is something that can come out of “happy” or content people. All of his movies where art is somehow involved, suggest that creation is never more potent than when we use it as a release from our personal demons. Remember, for example, how the young hero from Fanny and Alexander uses a little puppet theater to change the course of his life, or how the doomed knight from The Seventh Seal seems to find solace in the company of a troupe of artists.

There are endless moments in Summer Interlude that evoke or seem to be referencing Bergman’s further works. During a beautiful exterior scene, Marie and Henrik decide to go looking for “wild strawberries” and a darker scene has Henrik’s ailing grandmother (Renée Björling) who calls herself “death”, playing a game of chess with the vicar (Gunnar Olsson). It’s getting chilly for the old corpse and the clergyman” says the old woman, before the camera -- in direct opposition to the macabre feel of the situation -- moves to find the young lovers. Those unfamiliar with Bergman’s oeuvre aren’t likely to notice such moments, but his devotees will find themselves glowing excitedly because watching this feels like watching the birth of a genius.

The film’s stunning cinematography (by Gunnar Fischer) echoes the work Bergman would extract from Sven Nykvist later during the decade and the work provided by all his actors suggests how deep his latter performers would dive, in order to find the essence of their oft-troubled characters. Nilsson in particular, taps into the essence of the Bergman heroine: conflicted, otherworldly beautiful and holding tight to a secret that both fuels and shatters her life.

When the film starts and before we know the secret she’s hiding, Nilsson puts on a wonderful performance of a woman coming to terms with the inevitability of aging. “Our faces look 45, our bodies 18, we’re 28, but girls call us ‘ma’am’”, says one of the other ballerinas, as Marie gives her a sad smile. The beauty of this moment isn’t that Bergman was always so clever at capturing women’s issues, but that he so clearly knew that women were not necessarily the damsels in distress literature and other art forms might make us believe.

Bergman’s women always went beyond having completely superfluous problems (meaning plot driven conflicts or troubles with foreseeable resolutions); theirs are always problems that force us to give a closer look at those around us. Is Marie sad merely because she had a tragic love affair ages ago? Or is the summer interlude more affecting to her because it throws death and time at her when she least expects it to? This leads us to wonder why she even received the diary to begin with, but to spoil that would be making a disservice to a story that feels as soothing as the memory of a warm summer night and as devastating as the realization that perhaps life has no true meaning in the long run.

The Criterion Collection has done an impressive work in restoring the film to an almost pristine state. The movie probably never looked as gorgeous, and other than a very minor scratch, every frame has a delicious crispness to it. Sadly, no extras are included on the DVD version, but the movie itself should be quite the treat.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.