The slow and gradual death of a number of emotional pillars is a key theme to a much of Ingmar Bergman’s earlier work. Though the death of religion dominates his work fromThe Seventh Seal onwards, the physical death through aging and the passing of time that causes this, is something reserved to his earlier work. However the final conclusion of this act is almost never presented. Instead his films concentrate on the speeding up of this process; the emotional acceleration before the crash.
Often seen through the breakdown of relationships, this aspect is best realised in the first part of his summer trilogy, in 1951’s Summer Interlude. The relationship on show is as fleeting but as powerful as the seasons and seems to be almost dictated by them. The film moves back and forth in time between the present life of our protagonist to a past summer which she has never emotionally recovered from.
Marie is a ballet dancer whose cold and quiet demeanour makes the people of the dance company question her mentality. Through a series of flashbacks stemming from looking at an old diary, we see her younger, bubbly self fall head over heels into a summer romance whilst on an island break. One of the smaller but gratifying aspects about the film is the fleeting look at the consequences of the artist’s passion and their relationship and one that is consistently but subtly there.
Marie’s summer romance is a relationship in a microcosm; a genuine, life long love which perhaps explains why its ending is so devastating when autumn comes. What’s more affecting is how this rekindling of the past brings home the realisation of her age and how quickly time has passed. This is also having an effect on her current relationship though this one also suffers from the former’s problems of creativity before love.
As the film progresses, Marie’s obvious passion for her art begins to get in the way of her idyllic summer retreat. Housed on the island is an Uncle who allows Marie a dance room to practice in. The parallels between here and the present day dance hall recitals of Swan Lake are all too plain to see, and perhaps it is also an obvious fact that history repeating itself is making Marie feel older.
The film is littered with subtle, visual treats for the viewer as a straightforward telling of this relatively simple narrative would leave it similar to many other tragedies. Faces zoom out of the diary in the same way they appear out of Marie’s memory. Even the face of her own, younger self appears later on in the film. During a flashback to a sequence after an argument between the couple, they watch as a cartoon drawing of them sketched onto a record sleeve comes to life and mimics their lives, much to their entertainment. This scene verges on the surreal and figuring out exactly what is happening misses the point of the extremely poignant moment.
Throughout the present, Marie is in constant, if distant, discussions about getting older and retreats to her diary, perhaps to the one time where she was truly care free. As that summer ended, it is clear that the memory is in some way marred. Autumn is coming and arguments with her lover begin but are slowly resolved. It’s not until he is killed on the rocks while swimming, that it becomes clear that this really was just a summer interlude.
Back in the present, the show must go on. The feeling of time dragging on has grabbed Maria and is forcing her down into a world of perpetual solitude. This isn’t helped by her fellow dancers who feel the same but for more physical than emotional reasons. Summer Interlude ends with the ending of the main dance. The dancers are also frozen in position as the film fades, perhaps representing a closure for Marie, though this being a Bergman film it seems sadly unlikely.