A Lesson in Love doesn’t exactly start very well, at least from a contemporary perspective: after an arch voiceover telling us to prepare ourselves for a comedy for grownups, we first meet a comely but angry young woman, Susanne (played by Yvonne Lombard), listing the failings of her older lover, the gynaecologist David Erneman (Bergman regular Gunnar Björnstrand). The lines are sharp, even witty, but it still seems that we’re watching what is essentially a male fantasy: obviously the young, attractive patients of a middle-aged, jaded gynaecologist would fall over themselves to undress for him in private as well as in his practice. It’s not that Bergman spares his protagonist, but whatever criticism is leveled at David, in the end it doesn’t matter. Young women seem magically attracted to him, and even as Susanne berates him for his cynicism, she still can’t help begging him to continue being her lover.Continue reading
Before getting Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman set, I don’t think I had heard of Dreams, a 1955 drama directed and written by Bergman. Certainly, it doesn’t have the striking, dreamlike imagery of Wild Strawberries or the sexual frankness of Summer with Monika, but I was still surprised to read on Wikipedia that “Dreams is one of the few Ingmar Bergman films to have received lukewarm reviews”. It should come as no surprise that the performances are consistently strong, and especially the female leads make it well worth watching.Continue reading
Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of the second and third film in Criterion’s Bergman collection, Crisis and A Ship to India, but they were interesting as stepping stones towards the director’s more accomplished later films – and Wild Strawberries is definitely an illustration of those works and, after Smiles of a Summer Night, the second highlight of the collection.
Apparently Bergman wasn’t a huge fan of the first film he directed, Crisis (1946), which he called “lousy, through and through”. He wasn’t much kinder to his third, A Ship to India (1947), referring to it as “a major disaster” – except when his producer Lorens Marmstedt called to urge him to cut the worst parts, at which point Bergman rose to his film’s defense: “I informed him that I had no intention of cutting even one foot from this masterpiece.” Bergman may have been young and relatively inexperienced, but obviously he already had an ego to match a much more accomplished director.
Smiles of a Summer Night was going to be a tough one to follow. It’s an utterly delightful film: fun, sweet, poignant, well paced. Criterion was right to suggest it as the first film to watch on their Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema. Crisis (1946), by comparison, is clearly lesser Bergman: its story about an 18-year-old finding herself having to decide between her kindly foster mother and simple country life on the one hand and her more well-off biological mother and the big city is more predictable, its themes handled less interestingly, and its tones balanced less deftly. Crisis was Bergman’s first film as a director (he’d previously worked on scripts, first and foremost); it was based on a radio play by writer Leck Fischer, though Bergman wrote the adaptation for the screen.
Last year – while I was in Sweden during the week when Ingmar Bergman would have had his 100th birthday, fittingly – Criterion revealed its plans to release Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema, a collection of 39 of the director’s films, later that year. (It is telling that when you ask Google how many films Bergman actually made, the answer is “At least 36”. If Google doesn’t know a more exact answer than that, how should we?) As a self-confessed Criterion addict, I knew that there’d be no better way to get close to completing my Bergman collection than that, even though I already had some of the films on DVD and others on Blu-Ray. Still, getting all the remaining ones individually would be more expensive than getting the collection, not to mention more cumbersome. So, to cut things short: Reader, I ordered it.