#293. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

I admire this movie and think that it’s amusing but I can’t say that I like it—and almost feel like I need to apologize for not liking it, because it’s a sophisticated comedy from Ingmar Bergman. A genius, a master.

Bergman, young and fussy.

Bergman’s got one of those names like Fellini or Antonioni or Godard or Truffaut or Kurosawa—dautning to somebody like me, a casual American viewer. Fortunately I went into this having already seen, a few movies back, Bergman’s previous film, Summer with Monika; as well as, years prior, both Wild Strawberries and Seventh Seal—both of which I enjoyed and, I think, more or less comprehended.

            More than just making sense, Summer with Monika was erotic, relatable, resonant.

            So I came into this movie knowing that he is pretty accessible and interesting and very bvery human—attributes that I frankly wouldn’t have guessed at if Smiles of a Summer Night had been Bergman’s first movie on the List. Not because it’s super abstruse or snooty or cold; it just feels too refined. Elite.

            I think it’s heavily influenced by Renoir’s Rules of the Game, which I definitely enjoyed—but only in the last act. Otherwise, it felt the same way as this does: too busy, too regal, too…much.

            But in the interest of fairness and pulling the curtain back on bias I should mention that Smiles of a Summer Night is two things that just generally turn me off: a period piece, and a comedy of errors/misunderstandings. The latter, which I think bothered me in Swing Time most of all, is—apart from stressful—just a fucking nightmare to write about. Because I don’t wanna satudy the movie’s notes so closely that I remind myself of all the betrayals and confusions and (“funny”) twists, and I know that, even if I did give it a sincere college try, there’s no way that you, the poor beleaguered reader, are gonna feel like putting in the effort to make sense of it when at this point I think I’ve made clear that this is a site for light reading—something to browse over lunch or in an Uber or on the toilet—but the fact that the movie is dense with plot and twisty in its story isn’t to say that it’s bad or overwhelming.

            If anything, its twistiness is a compliment to Bergman. Because the movie is distinctly cinematic; in other words, he’s communicating, visually, a story that would be way harder to follow in a novel or a radio drama (I’ve read some erotica here and there involving swinger couples or groupsex and, lemme tell ya, working offa just their names, I’m constantly like, Wait, who’s with who? It’s tough to get turned on.).

            I just looked at the Wikipedia entry about Summer Night to see if it’d help—it doesn’t. It’s so fucking complicated.

            Sam-I-Am, I do not like this moive. And I haven’t lost sight of the fact that part of the point of this Project is that I’m forcing myself ot closely consider movies that I otherwise might not be inclined to seek out on my own, to study those movies, and, in the process, broaden my horizons.

            But I came to terms, back while I was parsing the hopeless complexity of The Big Sleep, with the fact that some movies are only gonna yield so much reward. If they’re way off the map of your interests, if you feel like you’re digging for treasure that isn’t there, then it’s wise to move on. Write about something else. There’s a fucking thousand other movies to go through.

            So it feels like a betrayal of the Project’s mission statement that I should watch a movie from the List (not to mention a movie from one of the codified masters of the form) and allow myself to just shrug about it, and tell you flippantly here that it’s just not my cuppa tea without making at least a cursory effort toward elucidating what’s great or distinct about it: the performances, the camerawork, etcetera.

            Alas, here we are.

Admittedly, this Russian Roulette scene at the end did make me laugh, and made for a nice cap on things. Otherwise: meh.

I find myself doing this in life, too: shutting the door on things that I suspect won’t interest me—which sounds cynical.

            Why not give things a chance?

            Well because I’ve got other shit to do. And, yes, I am beholden to this Project—but I’m not beholden to any particular movie on the List. What I’m committed to is the larger effort to better myself and learn some shit, to have a good time, and while there’s probably a handfulla stuff to be learned from this one, even if that stuff is only biographical or aesthetic data concerning Bergman’s development as an artist and his influence on the scene, I’m comfortable in saying, “Fuck it, I’m thirty, I can tell from a few yards away, without even squinting, when something is likely to interest me or not. Often, I’ll be wrong. But for the most part, I won’t be.”

            Anyway. That’s a long excuse.

            See? Rather than writing about the movie, I’m tryna write about how much I don’t want to write about it.

            Fuck this noise.

            On to the next.

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