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Blu-ray Review: SUMMER INTERLUDE (The Criterion Collection)

Joshua Brunsting

May 29th, 2012

Summer Interlude

Some directors are visual specialists. Look at Spielberg and his use of the close-up, known as the "Spielberg Face." Some are philosophers. Kubrick may be the best of that bunch. Some are aggressively provocative antagonists. No director is more polarizing than Godard. However, one director built his career on blending stark visuals with deep intellectual musing and the occasional religious provocation, wrapping it all up into a single canon that may very well be the deepest collection of films to ever be made by one filmmaker.

Ingmar Bergman, throughout his career, made a point to craft distant, isolating and visually desolate bits of cinema, but it is the handful of themes that he routinely touched on that make him one of the most influential and important filmmakers to ever walk the face of the earth. And all of these themes, from isolation to faith, life to death, are all found within one distinct picture, SUMMER INTERLUDE.

Playing on the title, (or at least the American translation of the film’s Swedish name, Sommarlek), INTERLUDE finds our lead looking back on a transitional point in her life. An aging dancer, we follow a woman who, after being led back to a cabin by a woman dressed in Bergman’s favorite color, black, reflects fondly on a past romance that would ultimately stay and haunt her to her present position. Bookended by a series of ballet performances just as isolating as the narrative, the film is both the epitome of Bergman’s filmmaking visually and also intellectually.

Starring Maj-Britt Nilsson, the film is a performance piece of the highest regard. Nilsson is a perfect lead for the female-focused Bergman, and fits right at the top of a woman heavy character gallery built by the auteur. She is visually as innocent as they come, and yet her arch turns her into a being that one could never have seen her become going into the film. There is a pure sense of arrogance that ultimately becomes anger and angst in one of the more fulfilling character archs that are found in the Bergman oeuvre.

A film purely about isolation and the fleeting moments that human beings share with one another, the film is as dark intellectually as it is aesthetically. Bergman builds his frame with such desolation, particularly during the dance set pieces that are so wonderfully composed, that when paired with his conversational blocking (which is as claustrophobic as it can get, thanks to his use of blocked off viewpoints), it really adds to the dream-like moments of human connection. Going as far as having his characters say that they relate and like “ugly” people and blind kittens, and that they were paid to stay away from family members following a divorce, you feel as though Bergman, in his core, has such a deep connection to outsiders and rejects, that this is his love letter to those people. Culminating in an angst ridden final act in which he completely not only denounces God, but proclaims that if He were to exist, his lead would hate him until she died, the film moves from a particularly moving look into a lost love, into a truly angry tone poem on the fallibility of faith.

This is all aided by the beautiful filmmaking. Be it Bergman’s gorgeous use of black and white, or his ability to simply off set the camera to extend the background into what seems like eternity, no filmmaker is able to visually evoke emotion as potently as Bergman was fully able to do. From very “stage”-like dance sequences, to the suffocating dialogue sequences, this film is a visual stunner for Bergman, coming six years before his magnum opus, THE SEVENTH SEAL. And it’s never looked better, thanks to a new Blu-ray from Criterion.

The transfer here is admittedly brilliant, far from shocking when the source is taken into account, but what is ultimately upsetting is the lack of supplements. There is a gorgeous book with a piece by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie, but if you are looking for a Bergman Blu-ray to feed your supplement appetite, pick up the stacked release of SUMMER WITH MONIKA (review coming for that as well later this week). However, this is a brilliantly potent look into a woman’s struggle with a lost love and a loss of faith, and is a must own for any Bergman fan, or film fan in general.

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