My love of Ingmar Bergman films goes back to Sixth Form when a trotskyist teacher showed us clips of old films, including Ginger and Fred, Antonioni, Godard, Buñuel and Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’. I’ll be forever grateful to him because that lesson changed my life and I’ve been collecting and watching classic films ever since. Bergman was, by then, already deeply unfashionable and had not been making films for some time but I’ll always defend him as one of the all-time greats. I love the actors he worked with and the way he directed them, the strong female roles in many of his films, the honesty with which he confronted difficult themes and then there’s the pure technical brilliance in his directing and the camera work from great cinematographers like Gunnar Fischer (who did the photography for this film) and Sven Nykvist. There are quite a few Bergmans I could have chosen for summer: ‘Summer with Monika’ and ‘Smiles of a Summer Night’ are both masterpieces. ‘Persona’ and ‘Wild Strawberries’ would also work. But I picked ‘Summer Interlude’ because it’s undeservedly neglected and arguably Bergman’s first great film.
A young ballet dancer, Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) receives a package containing a diary which brings back memories of a summer at her uncle’s house on an island years before and a romance with Hendrik (Birger Malmsten), her first great love. She takes the ferry back there to confront the painful memories which still haunt her. There are themes Bergman would use in later films, most notably Wild Strawberries – returning to places with painful associations, the story told in flashback, youthful mistakes we cannot escape from, the lies of artistic performance and isolation. Summer has rarely been more beautifully captured on film – dazzling light, days by the shimmering water and magnificent scenery. It goes by too quickly and as the season turns to autumn, you have a sense of lost innocence and something irreparably broken in Marie (compare the bright sunshine on the island with the dark, claustrophobic sets of the theatre).
If you associate Bergman with painful psychological confrontations between couples, heavy symbolism or extreme close-ups, you might be surprised at the lightness of touch and freshness of this film. It’s still a very honest story of a love affair that ends tragically but it’s intimate and poetic rather than harrowing.