Like Persona, SWM is a film concerned with image and film itself: there’s a sooty, neorealist opening in which Stockholm looms crookedly like Dickensian London, before the central theme of a blooming youth generation – a “touch of spring” – pushes through the soil in a sleepy cafe, old men grumbling in Ozu generational balance. Monika is far more taken-in than Harry by the cinema (as we see in an amusing juxtaposition of their reaction to silverscreen melodrama). Bergman foreshadows her lack of commitment through teenage vanity: she breaks off their first kiss to inspect her image in a portable mirror, and settles definitively on H the day after with the line “You’re just like someone in a film!”
H’s motivation seems (especially by the end) more wholesome and admirable, but we’re encouraged to remember the kitchen-sink circus-clatter of M’s chaotic bedsit, especially when H ultimately unwittingly repeats the domestic violence by which her father had forced her into his arms (H has actually escaped quite a cushy home life). Moving from this economic observation at escape velocity with babbling laughter to a shimmering coastline put me in mind of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, and sometimes also of La Haine (it’s tempting to read the cinematic self-consciousness into some of the slightly hammy domestic strife scenes at the end of SWM, as if they’re both blowing up in the way they imagine adults might – M’s adultery is ironically foretold by one of H’s co-workers on the sleeper train back into S)
S looks amazing in this; it has a great sprawl, which we aimlessly but restlessly track across under the cloudy spring skies. H and M find their own route (love the boat leaving under the bridge carrying cars), escaping the high walls of the venetian waterways into the port in some satisfyingly unadorned and patiently edited shots.
They pitch up on a glittering shore with the confident abandon of Sheen and Spacek in Badlands (the moment H realises “I haven’t overslept!” is perfect). The slow peaking and sinking of summer in this middle section is idyllic and very free (particularly the dialogue, which is devoid of the sometimes overly dry and stilted rumination that peaks in Through A Glass Darkly), spliced with dreamlike natural shots that made me think of the river pursuit in Night of the Hunter and Ivan’s first dream in Ivan’s Childhood (particularly M’s escape after being held hostage at a fancy home). Amid this blissful lolling they hatch a strangely traditional, nuclear dream – “You and I will make something of life,” breadwinner and homemaker, peace privacy and happy children. It’s a strange conservatism but also a view still soaked in summer’s naïve glow, as if social ideals are themselves born from this imagined utopia.
Very heaven, but the comedown is urban and cold (“we can’t afford to see a film”), clouds returning (this is Bergman) – H plugging away at a mechanics like the almost-unredeemed nadir of Fear Eats the Soul (the straightjacket of legal proceedings in suits also recalled Fox And His Friends). Importance of perspective resurgent (H having realised that the summer was a dream): H peering through a window onto his ominous newborn future; a spectacular shot of a shared cigarette but M slowly turning to the camera with a darkening background as if realising that she’s trapped. This is emulated when H finally catches a glimpse of himself and his swaddled daughter in a mirror outside his new employment, flashing back to the summer on the shining waters. Unlike the recalled peace which closes Cries and Whispers or the confusingly reclaimed image that ends Wild Strawberries, this dream seems to have died, swallowed into a town patrolled by street-hawkers scavenging spare furniture and childhood toys.
Pretty hilarious that this was the angle pushed by US promoters in a stateside edit:
It’s Bergman’s second-most glowingly beautiful film behind Persona.
Why do some people have good luck while others never do?
We have each other don’t we?