The Criterion Completist – Summer With Monika (1953)
written by: Ingmar Bergman and Per Anders Fogelstrom
produced by: Allen Ekelund
directed by: Ingmar Bergman
runtime: 96 min.
U.S. release date: September 1, 1955
DVD/Blu-ray release date: May 29, 2012
In a short interview with director Ingmar Bergman on the beautiful Criterion edition of Summer With Monika, he explains that he first saw Harriet Andersson dancing in negligee at a variety show in Stockholm, and fell in love with her immediately. He cast her in the titular role as Monika, and this love shines through to the film, as the camera follows her around like a lost puppy, adoring her every move. In a modern interview with Andersson on the DVD, she confirms that Bergman was indeed smitten with her, but that she had to make the first move, as he was too shy to kiss her!
This makes sense, because the character of Monika Erickson (Harriet Andersson) is a confident, brash, and aggressive young woman from a poor, working-class family in Stockholm. She works in a stockroom where she swears and fights with her male co-workers, and has to fight off their crude sexual advances. She meets Harry Lund (Lars Ekborg) at a nearby bar, and impulsively asks him out to a movie. Soon, they are dating, and falling quickly in love. After Monika has a violent fight with her drunken father, she and Harry decide to run away, and spend the rest of the summer relaxing in seclusion on a beach, far away from the chaos of the city. They are perfectly happy in this blissful environment, but soon, as money and food start to run low, the cold realities of their situation start to set in, and they forced to return to the city. Once there, the flaws in their seemingly perfect relationship start to manifest themselves, and lead to a tragic outcome.
The plot to “Summer With Monika“ is very basic, and most of the film is shots of the two young lovers splashing in the water, and running through fields. It has a very casual feel to it, and the pacing moves languidly along until the very end, when it seems to rush through a bit. As a result, I found it to be slightly boring at times, and difficult to involved with, yet the two leads are excellent throughout, and it seems to have been very influential to the later directors of the French New wave movement, with it’s themes of energetic love, youthful rebellion, and class struggles. In a chilling scene near the end, Monika turns and looks straight into the camera, while exhaling smoke through her nostrils. Bergman slowly zooms in on her face, as the light fades away in the background. These, and other artistic flourishes like it, set this apart from other teen rebellion or so-called “Swedish Sin” movies from the period, and show the early talent that Bergman was beginning to develop.
As usual, Criterion has loaded this release with a bevy of fantastic extras. A 20 minute feature called Images From the Playground has rare, behind the scenes footage of Bergman and his crew working on three different films from the early 1950s. Playing over this is an interview with Bergman as he talks about his processes while on set and his relationship with Harriet Andersson among others. But the most fascinating feature is Monika, The Story of a Bad Girl! which examines the strange journey of the distribution of “Summer With Monika” in the United States. Bought by legendary showman Kroner Babb for $10,000, he threw together a quick English dub track and a sultry jazz score, and edited the film down to highlight only it’s most salacious aspects. With a hilarious new trailer,”Summer With Monika“ gets turned from a mild Swedish indie film about oblivious teen lovers, into a sex-drenched exploitation romp about a “bad girl” on a man-destroying rampage.
Summer With Monika is available in single disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions from Criterion, and is available for rental and download on ITunes, and instant streaming on Hulu Plus.