People get old and die, and, to neophyte Ingmar Bergman, life's one certainty repeatedly clung him to doomed youngsters scrambling to ward off the decay of adult life. This testimonial for lost youth, open-air spontaneity leaking into expressionistic artifice, trades the early narcissistic brooding for a fuller acceptance of being alive, marvels and horrors and all; as important a work as The Naked Night, consequently. The female psyche takes center stage, namely Maj-Britt Nilsson's star-ballerina, in her late twenties but whose face, caked-up with stage paint and sliced in half close-up by the frontal camera, is already a mask of death. A diary sends her through the director's beloved flashback structure, gazing achingly back at the idyll she spent with callow college student Birger Malmsten, her first love. Strawberries picked by the side of a lake, fireworks at a dance, doodling on a record's cover magically animated into a stick-figure flipbook -- summer vibrancy segues into autumnal grayness, yet the film remains sensitive to the young heroine's fickle ardor and to her older aunt's muted pain alike. Nilsson's rapture wavers from mindless flirtation with lecherous uncle George Funkquist to a sudden awareness of mortality triggered by an owl's distant cry, but the purity of Nature (later questioned in Summer With Monika) and her innocence come crashing down with her beloved, dead on the rocks following a show-off dive. Afterwards, a protective wall rises around her, so thick "even the Devil can't break through," although the sudden trip down memory lane proves therapeutic -- revisiting her past, Nilsson is able to vanquish her own Dr. Coppelius (actually ballet instructor Stig Olin, in full beaked-clown costume) and finally open up to her suitor (Alf Kjellin). "Compromise with life" is what the filmmaker dubbed the theme, though here learning to take the warts along with the beauty marks doesn't prevent the heroine from experiencing a lovely opening-night epiphany, tongue stuck out at her mirror image, what's taken place behind her, and what lies ahead. Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce