17 September 2010

20 Scripts in 30 Days: Number 10, Smiles of a Summer Night, by Ingmar Bergman

-How could a woman ever love a man?”
-A woman’s view is seldom based on aesthetics. And one can always turn out the light.

Nothing like actually reading a man's work to blow away the cliches. If you think all Bergman can produce are gloomy Nordic tales, you need to read this sunny, frothy and charming piece, or, even better, see the movie.
     Smiles of a Summer Night is set at the turn of the last century, and it seems as much a product of French or Central European boudoir comedies as a Bergman film. It skips through an intricately plotted set of  lover's games. Women scheme. Men are their pawns and their buffoons, despite all their surface dignity. Marriage is a banal trap, but love . . . love is the drug, the force, the driver. Simple lust gets its time in the moonlight as well.
     Bergman takes all the figures of a bedroom farce -- the young, innocent lovers, the slightly jaded roué, the earthy housemaid, the duel played for slapstick, and, of course, the discovery of the rival in the boudoir -- and plays with them as skilfully as Marivaux or Lehár ever did. Epigrams zip through the air as fast as Cupid's arrows, and many of them seem like something Chamfort might have coined.
     And it's all . . .sexy, even without looking at the lovely Swedish actresses who took the roles in the film.
     Shadows lurk in the night, though: the old woman who once herself played the game of love as a beautiful courtesan, now reduced by age. We're reminded of the brevity of love and the variability of the crazy human heart.
     Smiles of a Summer Night is poetic, lyrical. A fizzy champagne surface, with a melancholy heart pulsing beneath.
     I'm overwhelmed, really, with the power of Bergman's imagination, and his ability to create vivid characters and his complete mastery of dramatic form. It seems as if he was able to take any narrative device, any trope and turn it to his own use.

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