Smiles of a Summer Night
After fifteen films that received mostly local acclaim, the 1955 comedy Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) at last ushered in an international audience for Ingmar Bergman. In turn-of-the-century Sweden, four men and four women attempt to navigate the laws of attraction. During a weekend in the country, the women collude to force the men’s hands in matters of the heart, exposing their pretensions and insecurities along the way. Chock-full of flirtatious propositions and sharp witticisms delivered by such Swedish screen legends as Gunnar Björnstrand and Harriet Andersson, Smiles of a Summer Night is one of cinema’s great erotic comedies.
Smiles of a Summer Night makes its Blu-ray debut from Criterion, presented in a new 1080p/24hz transfer in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc.
First off it’s obviously not the same transfer used for the DVD edition Criterion released back in 2004. That one, while good, presented far more instances of damage in the source than what we get here, the new presentation removing nearly all blemishes, at least the more noticeable ones like hairs and larger scratches. This transfer also looks a little bit brighter, though I can’t help feeling it may have been a little over done and in reality should probably fall somewhere between what we get here and the DVD’s darker presentation. But the gray levels are perfect and shadows are adequately presented.
The image is also quite a bit sharper with more prominent finer details, and the film’s grain structure is intact. The bit rate is very high, staying above 35mbps throughout most of the film, though considering the film is just about the only item on this disc it should be too big a surprise Criterion has maxed it out in this area.
In all we get a lovely new presentation of the film that’s not simply an HD presentation of the old transfer.
The lossless PCM mono track offers a slight improvement as well, delivering a cleaner track overall. The previous DVD still presented some discernable background noise that can still be noticeable here in places but not to the same level. Dialogue is clean and the music can sound a little rough but overall it’s a perfectly adequate mono presentation.
Criterion has ported everything over from the original DVD, not adding anything. This unfortunately means that now for a higher premium price (MSRP of $39.95 for this new Blu-ray, compared to the $29.95 of the original DVD) we still only get barely 20-minutes worth of material.
First is a 4-minute introduction by Ingmar Bergman, filmed by director Marie Nyeröd in 2003 (I believe a series of these were shot for his films as introductions for a television program.) He briefly talks about his surprise at the film’s success, which also showed at Cannes without his knowledge (he found out about it while sitting on the toilet reading the newspaper.) In turn the film’s success, after a series of flops, led to him receiving more freedom to make the films he wanted. Not overly insightful because of its short runtime but I enjoy getting whatever interview I can with the director.
The final feature is a 17-minute discussion between film scholar Peter Cowie and writer Jörn Donner. Not the overly insightful piece I had been hoping for but it has some value. The two talk about Bergman’s career up to that point (not great) and then how this film helped him break out of Sweden, his stature amongst cinephiles cemented after The Seventh Seal, which he was able to make because of the success of Smiles of a Summer Night. Donner talks a little about Bergman’s personal life at the time, as well as problems in his professional relationships, and the two also talk about Summer Night and the film’s cast. Not bad but as the disc’s meatier supplement it’s lacking. The disc also still comes with short bios for each participant.
A 2-minute theatrical trailer then closes the disc.
The booklet is pretty much the same as the DVD’s, yet again presenting a nice essay by John Simon about Bergman’s career up to this point and the film itself, followed by Pauline Kael’s review of the film. Everything looks the same at a quick glance but the presentation order is different: Kael’s review now appears after Simon’s essay.
Not a surprise that the supplements are so scant here considering I figured Criterion was simply just porting everything over from the DVD, but the fact the disc is being released at a premium price (with recycled supplements) makes them all the more unsatisfying.
It looks great and the boost in picture quality is well worth the upgrade but I would say only if you can find the disc on sale, preferably during a 50% off sale. I’m happy to see Criterion is showing interest in digging through some of their more minor DVD releases (and I’m referring to the actual release, not the film itself) to put out on Blu-ray but the high price is still a little absurd, and makes it hard to fully recommend currently.