summer interlude (1951)
Summer Interlude is a midday memory when rehearsal must wait until evening. To live adhering to craft, to be carried away by the feeling of a mission, to live each moment as though it were someone else, we are not ourselves so much when we are in the throes of creating, we are someone else, someone better. For Marie, the slightest crack in the facade, or upset to the tempo causes the memories of her past to come flooding back, without the rehearsal and with the entrance of a diary from Henrik, all the thoughts of summers long ago are suddenly real again. How much of ourselves do we leave behind as we move forward in life, are there pieces of ourselves left as we walk, tied to places and times that we can never return to. When we take this interlude, the film opens into a vision of summer days and nights, of the draw of youth and the beauty of a young life force that the old, in an increasingly recurring theme for Bergman, seem to want to get at, or possess in some way. For Marie in the story of the past, there are no men in her life who are not pursuing her in some way; her lustful uncle and the boyish interest of Henrik, even her director at the ballet wants to push her into more perfect form in her craft. Marie is the picture of the youth that is at peace being in the center of the spotlight, she is never out of it for her waking hours are spent either rehearsing or being the center of male attention.
Here, Bergman sweeps us into visions and the experimentation comes from lingering in the feeling, not necessarily the reality. When our couple prepares to make love for the first time, (after we’ve already witnessed their first kiss) it is with the lingering essence of spirits all around them, an ominous call from an eagle owl, the way all time seems to stand still, even an animated sequence where their drawing leap from the page and move about. This is Bergman at his most open and heartfelt, a new avenue for him as a filmmaker, a new breed of artistic honesty. Summer is set up as a fleeting moment of respite from the long winter and the dreams of summer seem to come from someplace else, ethereal, the plane of existence where thoughts become beauty and beauty becomes love. The sexual yearning of the teenagers draws them closer and closer, they are complacent companions as they express their feelings of eternal life, an endless supply of tomorrows and the light, airy feeling of today. This is all washed away, of course, by Marie’s melancholy present, which we return to just as disaster strikes Henrik. Here is where Bergman stretches his legs for the meatiest bits of the picture. All around Marie, just as in her premonitions on her last day of virginity, there are specters of a past that calls out from somewhere deeply buried. Her encounter with the mysterious costumed figure in the theater, someone she knows but we do not, someone who has played a role in her life, in yet another flashback we will never see, bringing harbingers of tomorrow and another and so on.
With Summer Interlude, Bergman crafts his most sound narrative up to that point in his career, he composes his most evocative scenes as well, allowing for the mystery of life as well as the strife of creation, the highs and lows of our relationships, sex and love, all to mingle in one frame and across scenarios. By the film’s final act we are in a haunted film, where ghosts and traces of the past lurk around every corner in the frame. It is a remarkable tone set, as the traces of bygone years and lives that have passed, even an odd smell that is often mentioned, fill the senses and distract the mind. It is the world, alive all around us at all times, yet we remain with our senses firmly focused on our tasks, perhaps too focused to ever notice the existence of such lingering pieces of times gone by. A sudden afternoon off and the weight of the years lived comes rushing back and all the emotional memory, felt and never registered, comes with it. It is a film where Bergman brings those moments and feelings, so often in cinema and in life relegated to the margins, the forefront. It is a film about those spaces in our mind that are never fully illuminated, but the shadows dissolve at times just enough to see them, and then the curtain rises and it’s time for the spotlight all over again. Summer Interlude is an ode to memory and a grand early film for Bergman.