Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema
Disc 1, Smiles of a Summer Night
In honor of Ingmar Bergman’s one-hundredth birthday, the Criterion Collection is proud to present the most comprehensive collection of his films ever released on home video. One of the most revelatory voices to emerge from the postwar explosion of international art-house cinema, Bergman was a master storyteller who startled the world with his stark intensity and naked pursuit of the most profound metaphysical and spiritual questions. The struggles of faith and morality, the nature of dreams, and the agonies and ecstasies of human relationships—Bergman explored these subjects in films ranging from comedies whose lightness and complexity belie their brooding hearts to groundbreaking formal experiments and excruciatingly intimate explorations of family life.
Arranged as a film festival with opening and closing nights bookending double features and centerpieces, this selection spans six decades and thirty-nine films—including such celebrated classics as The Seventh Seal, Persona, and Fanny and Alexander alongside previously unavailable works like Dreams, The Rite, and Brink of Life. Accompanied by a 248-page book with essays on each program, as well as by more than thirty hours of supplemental features, Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema traces themes and images across Bergman’s career, blazing trails through the master’s unequaled body of work for longtime fans and newcomers alike.
Disc one (programmed as “Opening Night”) of Criterion’s 30-disc box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema presents the film that introduced Bergman to the world, Smiles of a Summer Night. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc and features a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. According to the notes in the set’s included book the presentation comes from a 2K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
I was always a little confused by Criterion’s original Blu-ray edition for this film, released way back in 2011. The transfer notes for that edition copied the DVD’s, stating that the master came from a high-definition restoration scanned from a print struck directly from the negative (so not directly from the negative), which suggested that they were reusing the same master that was used for the DVD edition. I really questioned this, though, because the Blu-ray’s presentation looked way too good for that to be the case. Not only were most of previous blemishes removed (along with print fluctuations) but grain also looked shockingly good, the image delivering a really wonderful film-like texture that I highly doubt a digital master from 2004 (at the latest) would be able to offer. It looked like it was a newer scan and a newer restoration.
I’m guessing now that the notes for that Blu-ray edition were incorrect because what is provided here (which again, is apparently sourced from a 2K restoration taken from the negative, as the notes say here) looks exactly the same as what was presented on that Blu-ray. And this is perfectly fine because the presentation was and is still unbelievably good. The level of detail (which was admittedly still pretty good on the DVD) is extraordinary, with fine details and textures popping through clearly. This is aided by the sharp rendering of the film’s grain, which looks clean and natural throughout. Contrast is good, with wonderful gray levels that smoothly transition, capped off with strong looking blacks. The film receives a lot of room to breathe on the disc, retaining an impressive bitrate throughout, and I don’t recall any severe digital anomalies, similar to the original Blu-ray’s presentation.
And again the restoration work is impressive, cleaning up most of the blemishes found on the DVD’s presentation. In the end it doesn’t appear to be new, looking to be sourced from the same master used for the individual Blu-ray edition. But this isn’t a bad thing at all; it’s a sharp, clean, and filmic looking image that still looks great 8 years later.
Audio sounds the similar to what is offered on the original Blu-ray: there is some audible background noise at times but the track does have some decent depth and fidelity to it, and both dialogue and music are clean and sharp.
Criterion does port over most of the supplements from the DVD and Blu-ray edition, which was unfortunately sparse, all of the material running a bit over 20-minutes. This was pretty obnoxious for a the higher $39.95 price point on Blu-ray (when the DVD had been priced at $29.95) but in the context of this set, which is loaded with material, the minimal quantity of supplemental material offered here is less infuriating.
First is a 4-minute introduction by Ingmar Bergman, filmed by director Marie Nyeröd in 2003, filmed for television as introductions for airings of his films (and Criterion has been putting these on their Bergman releases since). 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 set’s 247-page book also features the same essay by John Simon on the film, explaining how the film offered a defining moment for Bergman, who was dealing with a number of personal issues at the time (with Bergman even thinking that offing himself was a viable option). Unfortunately Criterion does not carry over Pauline Kael’s review of the film.
Again, the material isn’t terribly in-depth but it does explain the importance behind the film and how it boosted Bergman’s visibility, leading him down the path he would eventually follow.
This disc is essentially the same exact disc that Criterion released individually but it’s still a solid way to open the set.