Summer Interlude: Criterion Collection
May 31, 2012
When he was 18-years-old, Ingmar Bergman wrote a short story about a brief but intense love affair he had with a girl while in his teens. It would go on to provide the basis for his film Summer Interlude (1951), which would become a crucial turning point in his career. With this film, he began to have the female protagonists become the focal point in his works. It also demonstrated Bergman’s growth as a filmmaker, both technically and thematically.
The opening credits play over a montage of idyllic Swedish countryside during the summer before shifting to a city where we meet Marie (Nilsson), a veteran ballet dancer getting ready for a rehearsal of Swan Lake. Just before going on she receives some upsetting news that comes in the form of a diary. We also find out that she’s in a comfortable relationship with a journalist named David Nystrom (Kiellin) that lacks passion.
Marie takes a boat ride to a cold, desolate countryside where most of the trees are devoid of leaves – a sharp contrast to what we saw in the opening credits. It mirrors her introspective mood and she flashes back to the age of 13 and going to ballet school. She was an aspiring dancer back then with her whole life ahead of her. One day, she meets Henrik (Malmsten), a shy student and an avid fan of her dancing.
When she was young, the little cabin by the lake that she lives in looks cozy and inviting, but in the present it is empty and devoid of life. Over the course of the film, Bergman cuts back and forth between a contemplative Marie in the present and the brief but intense affair she has with Henrik in her teens. Maj-Britt Nilsson does a fantastic job juxtaposing the two very different places Marie is in her life over the course of Summer Interlude. We see her go from a vibrant teenage student to the melancholic veteran dancer in her late twenties.
As they get to know each other, Henrik talks about his fear of death and complains of being alone with only his dog caring about him. Marie, on the other hand, is full of life and boasts that she will never die, epitomizing the brash confidence of youth. They spend long summer days together, always away from any distractions from the outside world – “inside the same bubble,” she tells him at one point. They compliment each other’s contrasting habits – he’s full of doubts and fears while she’s adventurous and romantic.
While Bergman made Summer Interlude when he was an adult he didn’t forget what it was like to be young and in love – that feeling where you want to spend every moment with the other person that you’re in love with. He recalls with uncanny accuracy the intense emotions that arise at that age when everything is still fresh and new. And with the ability of hindsight and experience, he also shows what it is like when life doesn’t turn out quite the way you hoped or expected it would. All it takes is one thing to trigger a flood of memories from the past and he nails how wistful and sad they make you feel. You can never go back that time – only in your mind where you can replay it over and over again.