Summer With Monika (Sommaren med Monika)

Summer With Monika
(Sommaren med Monika)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman and Per Anders Fogelström (based on the novel by Per Anders Fogelström)
Stars: Harriet Andersson (Monika), Lars Ekborg (Harry), John Harryson (Lelle), Dagmar Ebbesen (Harry’s aunt), Åke Fridell (Monika’s father), Naemi Briese (Monika’s mother), Åke Grönberg (Harry's friend at work), Sigge Fürst (Porcelain warehouse worker)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1953
Country: Sweden
Summer With Monika Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
Summer With MonikaWhen Monika (Harriet Andersson) and Harry (Lars Ekborg), the young protagonists of Ingmar Bergman’s Summer With Monika (Sommaren med Monika), meet by chance in a café in one of the film’s opening scenes, the outgoing Monika cheerfully suggests that they run off together. Given that they had just met a few minutes ago, Harry takes it as a joke, but there is something in Monika’s demeanor that suggests that, on some level, she is quite serious. Although she is outwardly ebullient and boisterous, there is a certain desperation to her movements, and when she abruptly joins Harry at his table and essentially corners him into asking her on a date, the stage is set for a relationship that will be defined almost entirely by highs and lows, with nothing in-between.

Monika and Harry are in many ways perfect for each other. They are both disaffected outsiders in their own lives, albeit for entirely different reasons. Monika, who is 18, lives in a crowded tenement with her squabbling younger siblings, no-nonsense mother (Naemi Briese), and alcoholic and at times abusive father (Åke Fridell). She feels constricted, crowded, trapped. Nineteen-year-old Harry, on the other hand, has the opposite problem: He lives in a spacious apartment with his sickly, widower father (Georg Skarstedt), and as a result feels lonely and isolated. Monika’s need to escape her family and Harry’s need to connect with someone merge, thus setting off an intense love affair that culminates with both of them quitting their jobs, deserting their families, and taking off in Harry’s father’s boat to live among the islands in the archipelago north of Stockholm (the same setting Bergman used in his earlier film, 1951’s Summer Interlude).

At first, Monika and Harry’s existence is a blissful state of youthful rebellion against the constrictions and conformities of the modern world, as they carve their lives out of the raw of nature, unhindered by schedules, job responsibilities, or families. They are free to wile their days away swimming, dancing to a portable phonograph, and making love. However, their ideal existence is predicated on a fantasy that cannot last, and it begins to crumble when the realities of true survival set in—realities that are greatly increased by the realization that Monika is pregnant. Soon, they are having to scavenge for food by stealing from nearby gardens and orchards, and the pressures of staying alive begin to cut into their idealized romance, fracturing it from within and revealing the inherent fantasy of their enterprise. Thus, when they return to society, marry, and try to build a typical bourgeois existence in a cramped apartment while Henrik studies to become an engineer, it comes as little surprise that their relationship, forged in rebellion against the very thing they have become, is doomed.

Unlike Summer Interlude, which it superficially resembles, Summer With Monika is an inherently pessimistic film, presaging some of Bergman’s most trenchant later works, particularly his masterpiece Scenes From a Marriage (1973). The film’s guiding theme is relational disintegration, as the initial highs in the relationship between Monika and Harry are matched by corresponding lows. Monika, ever the romantic idealist, sees the world through eyes shaped by Hollywood movies and lucid daydreams, and she rubs off on Harry, who is more practical and down to earth, but clearly relishes the bursts of energy and freedom that Monika provides. She allows him to bloom, but she also crushes him when disappointed, blaming him for their lot and betraying him with other men (including an ex-boyfriend) who might be able to satisfy her need to feel wild and unhinged. She becomes hateful by the end, unruly, impractical, and unfair, although Bergman never lets us off the hook, as much of the film’s energy derives from Monika’s earthy sensuality and inhibition. We both admire and detest her. Harriet Andersson, at the time a relatively unknown young actress Bergman cast (and subsequently fell in love with) after seeing her in Gustaf Molander’s Defiance (1952), gives Monika’s sexuality a rich intensity that is both liberating and a bit intimidating, as it suggests the energy of a character who doesn’t know what she wants, but will tear through anything in order to get it.

Although it was his 12th film, Summer With Monika became Bergman’s key international breakthrough, partially because of its scandalous nature. In Sweden, the film’s eroticism, brief nudity, and storylines involving unwed motherhood and adultery didn’t raise many eyebrows, but when it was imported to the United States in the mid-’50s, it became something of an outage, particularly after exploitation showman Kroger Babbe recut it, dubbed it into English, added a jazz soundtrack, and released it in 1955 as Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl!. Almost overnight European art cinema became synonymous stateside with risqué subject matter, bringing together serious cinephiles and tawdry filmgoers in mutual admiration.

There are flashes of genuine brilliance throughout the film, particularly a striking close-up of Monika staring directly into the camera—a technique that was largely verboten at the time, even in the more artistically daring corridors of European cinema. The shot lingers in our mind because it resonates with both emotional intensity (we see the turmoil in Monika’ s heart in her darkened eyes) and meta-cinematic challenge (given that she is about to cheat on Harry, the shot can only be read as Monika daring us to pass judgment). It is the kind of shot that only a true master would dare create, and in Monika’s conflicted stare we see not just a memorable film character at a crossroads, but a window into the future of Bergman’s illustrious career.

Summer With Monika Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
Summer With Monika is also available from The Criterion Collection on DVD.
Aspect Ratio1.37:1
AudioSwedish Linear PCM 1.0 moanural
  • Video introduction by director Ingmar Bergman
  • Video interview with actress Harriet Andersson, conducted by film scholar Peter Cowie
  • Monika Exploited” featurette
  • Images from the Playground documentary
  • Trailer
  • Insert booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Laura Hubner, a 1958 review by filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, and a publicity piece from 1953 in which Bergman interviews himself
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateMay 29, 2012

    I have no complaints about Criterion’s new 2K high-definition transfer of My Summer With Monika, which was made from the original 35mm camera negative. The black-and-white image is smooth, clear, well detailed, and almost completely free of any signs of age or wear. Digital restoration has removed virtually all nicks, scratches, and dirt, but without compromising the celluloid grain structure, thus maintaining a distinctly film-like appearance. The original monaural soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic tracks and digitally restored, is understandably limited in terms of scope and depth, but still has a nice feel to it and a decided lack of aural artifacts.
    While Criterion’s Blu-Ray of Summer Interlude is bare-bones, they have included several worthwhile supplements for Summer With Monika, beginning with a four-minute video introduction by Ingmar Bergman, which was originally recorded for Swedish television in 2003. There are also two new video interviews included on the disc. The first is a fascinating 24-minute conversation between actress Harriet Andersson and film scholar Peter Cowie. Andersson is spry and funny and quite frank in her discussion of her professional and personal experiences with Bergman. In the 12-minute featurette “Monika Exploited!,” film scholar Eric Schaefer (author of Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of Exploitation Films) relates the fascinating account of how exploitation showman Kroger Babb bought the U.S. distribution rights to Bergman’s film and turned it into Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl!. The supplements conclude with Images From the Playground, a half-hour documentary by Stig Björkman that features behind-the-scenes footage shot by Bergman, archival audio interviews with Bergman, and new interviews with actresses Bibi Andersson and Harriet Andersson, and the film’s theatrical trailer. The insert booklet contains a new essay by film scholar Laura Hubner, a 1958 review by filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, and a publicity piece from 1953 in which Bergman interviews himself.

    Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    James Kendrick

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