Say what you like about "Summer Paradise," now at the Outer Circle, it certainly is photogenic. Four generations of easy-on-the-eyes Swedes, so many you can't tell them apart without a scorecard, repair to their annual summer vacation of eating, drinking, swimming, picnicking and getting on each other's nerves, all in glorious Eastmancolor.
Yes, discontents do smolder beneath that lydllic surface, enough to keep a perpetual frown on the face of Katha, the middle-aged doctor two tries hard to hold things together.
Sassa, her sassy daughter, shows up with yet another lover, an amiable lout who grows berries up North. Sassa's sister, Annika, is troubled because her journalist husband, Ture, is not a model of marital faithfulness. Sassa's friend Ingrid and her son King are perpetually upset, feeling that nobody likes them because they're maladjusted. Nephew Tomas is moody, but everyone puts that down to the pangs of adolescence.
And that's just scratching the surface.
Though it seems unfair to blame this all on poor Katha, "Summer Paradise" tends to. A tidy person who likes to keep things just so, who covers her pictures with plastic and says "I like to be punctual, even on vacation," Katha is fated to get her comeuppance from the opening moments of the film, when her best friend Emma tells her she hates to see things so well cared for when people - flesh and blood and all that - are neglected.
Ominous, very ominous.
If this sounds like a Swedish soap opera, a smoldering slice of Scandinavian life, it probably sounds more exciting than it is. Because despite all this nominal busyness, much of "Summer Paradise" is spent waiting for something to happen, waiting for the film to finally pick itself up and get started.
Directed by Gunnel Lindblom (luminous as an actress in Ingmar Bergman's most striking films of the 1960s) and produced by the great man himself, "Summer Paradise" is characterized by excellent acting, especially by Brigitta Valberg as the pup-upon Katha. It's failures are not so much of technique as of content: Even after it is over, it is terribly hard to figure out what this film is about.
Of course, one can make educated guesses. Perhaps it's all a parable about the evils of conspicous consumption, or about the problems of the welfare state. Or perhaps, as a speech by Emma that comes out of nowhere near the film's conclusion leads you think, it's about how we're neglecting our children and leaving the world in an unholy mess.
Your guess is as good as mine. "Summer Paradise" seems conceptually flabby, very much what you would expect from a directorial debut. While there is nothing awfully wrong, all that tiptoeing means neither is there any compelling reason to see it.