Smiles of a Summer Night is a delightful amoral piece of Sweden which won the Grand Prix at Cannes a few years ago for various good reasons. Perhaps the judges also had never before seen a film in which the eternal games of love and sex were treated with such lighthearted wit, enthusiasm, and candor--and good taste. In fact, I strongly suspect that hardly anyone has ever seen love and sex handled so suavely in real life. Moreover, all four of the film's female leads live up to both Sweden's and Brigitte Bardot's reputations for young womanhood; this may explain the appeal of Sweden to nearly anyone who sees the film.
It's a good day for Grandmother Boston when the high wooden walls of Puritanism can be wedged apart far enough to let such an amoral gem of a film play at the Kenmore. Not that it's pornographic. Not a bit. It proves the point that sex is an excellent subject for art and comedy without having to be crude or blatantly erotic. Although it is, really, all about sex, it has none of the relatively clumsy Hollywood eroticism of the writhing Presley genre, or even of recent French letdowns, such as And God Created Woman.
What might have shocked the censors is its gay freedom from what most of America considers fairly absolute morals--a count and his wife, for example, bet each other, as part of the dinner table conversation at a party, that the wife cannot seduce the man on his right in fifteen minutes (the same man, incidentally, whom the Count recently met in his--the Count's--nightshirt at the house of their mutual mistress); they bet; the woman later turns out to have won--and in eight minutes, not fifteen. Good for Boston. Cultural relativism. Moral perspectives. Jolly good fun.
The plot of the film doesn't matter much, but it is remarkably efficient at weaving four men and four women in and out of one another's affairs, and it does lead to an appropriately neat, light ending. Everyone finishes with one mate, which is of course a major reversal for most people concerned.
The lawyer, a remarkably active man for his age, gets the actress; the lawyer's son gets the lawyer's second wife; the Count gets the Countess (ha!); and the maid is about to make the stablekeeper marry her. Everything is taken lightly.
The director, Ingmar Bergman, handles even details--footmen, puddles, wheatfields--skillfully. He even wields symbols with wit, as in the scene in which the son, an ascetic would-be minister, finally renounces not the world for God but God for the world; the flimsy curtain into which the son is leaning suggests a veil, and the window's shadow on the wall behind him is just enough like a cross.
Unfortunately, there is also another film at the Ken-more. It plods along in color, wasting one or two good actors and proudly showing off a disastrously untalented buxom blonde. The director seems confident that anything to do with a pet alligator in England is uproarious, and that the perfect ending for a film is a car filled by boy, girl, boy alligator, girl alligator, and nauseating love song, wafting along the long driveway of a gigantic mansion. It is embarrassing.
Since one of my neighbors did laugh every now and then, though, I must report that a distinguished Harvard classics scholar considers the following repartee inspired: "Did you know that a single alligator can lay ninety-seven eggs in a year?" "Well! Imagine what a married one could do." If we discount the grunts of various reptiles, this, sadly enough, may be the best line in the film.
Daisy is nearly as well worth missing as Smiles of a Summer Night is worth seeing.