Summer with Monika
When writer Per Anders Fogelström explained the premise of his newest work to Ingmar Bergman, the filmmaker said what pretty much every filmmaker says when presented with a good idea: “That sounds like a film!” Fogelström agreed to turn his story into a script and a few years later Bergman’s Summer with Monika was thrilling (or offending) audiences worldwide.
Harry and Monika meet in a café between shifts of their respective, soul-suffocating jobs in industrial Stockholm. Monika, spirited and beautiful, laments living such a drab existence when, outside, Spring is inviting such possibilities. She playfully presents her litmus test to Harry, asking him to run away with her and explore the “whole wide world.” Unimpeded by the gift of foresight, Harry agrees.
They begin their escape with a more readily accomplished trip to the cinema. Harry yawns through 1949’s Song of Love while Monika leans forward, entranced, tears streaming down her face. (Her infatuation with cinema is a central theme throughout Bergman’s film; the glamour and impossible romance of the movies inform her desires and motivate her actions.) After the movie, they wrap around each other on a park bench bathed in light and shadow, affirming their newfound affections. It is here we see that Harry’s loneliness is too great and Monika’s gravitational pull, too powerful. After a few run-ins with parents and employers, they sever themselves from the oppressions of family, employment and responsibility, and disappear—in a way only the young can—to one of Sweden’s loveliest archipelagos.
Harry and Monika’s summer escape is an idyllic dream of youth. They play, they make love in the grass; in one particularly daring scene (for 1953), Monika bathes nude in a glistening ocean pool. But such dreams decay rapidly, especially when they’re burdened by the pangs of reality. On the islands, Monika becomes pregnant. When Harry begins to panic about her needs as an expectant mother, Monika dismisses any idea of returning to civilization. “I want summer to go on just like this.” Such an idea is purely dramatic and evokes Monika’s relationship to the movies. She has no intention of conforming to any life that does not mirror those flickering dreams. This leaves Harry to become a casualty of Monika’s expectations.
Bergman was very much in love with Harriet Andersson (Monika) by the time filming wrapped. Though Lars Ekborg gives a fine performance as Harry, Bergman’s camera is absolutely obsessed with Andersson. He drinks her in with every composition, contemplating, familiarizing, sexualizing. The two would work together several more times (my favorite collaboration being Through a Glass Darkly), but I don’t believe their chemistry as director and actress was ever more erotically palpable.
Summer with Monika was delivered to US audiences in a rather unusual way. Enticed by the groundbreaking nudity present in the film, distributor Kroger Babb purchased the rights from Svensk Filmindustri, edited it down and rebranded it as a salacious exploitation picture: “Monika: The Story of a Bad Girl.” Of course, Bergman’s original is anything but. His film is a work of mature observation. He does not paint Monika as a villain or “bad girl.” She is neither whore nor temptress. She is a girl driven by desperation and her eventual unwillingness to compromise is an act of survival. In early scenes, we see Monika living in a claustrophobic apartment with her many siblings. We see her being sexually harassed by her coworkers and physically abused by her alcoholic father. When Monika leans towards the cinema screen, it’s because she’s looking for a way in.
Summer with Monika comes to Blu-ray in its original standard aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The transfer utilizes the AVC codec, takes up 29GB of space on the disc, and has a video bitrate of 34.98Mbps.
Criterion brings Summer with Monika to Blu-ray with a stunning transfer minted from a 2K scan of the restored 35mm elements. Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer’s black and white images have been lovingly repaired, with perfect contrast, deep blacks, and not a hint of noise. Damage, scratches, dirt, etc., are nearly nonexistent. And, of course, there has been no digital tinkering, so the film’s grain structure is deliciously intact. This is absolutely the finest I’ve ever seen the film look.
Summer with Monika is presented here with a 24-bit uncompressed Swedish monaural track at 1152Kbps. English subtitles are presented in glorious white.
The Swedish 1.0 track is excellent. I heard no instances of distortion and only very minor hiss. Dialogue is clear and the film’s subtle score is presented faithfully.
Ingmar Bergman Intro (4min):
Taken from the same interview series found on several other Criterion/Bergman discs, this intro is actually a snippet of a 2003 interview between Bergman and reporter Marie Nyreröd. Bergman shares stories about meeting Anders Fogelström and his work with Harriet Andersson.
Peter Cowie Interviews Harriet Andersson (25min):
Here we have an excellent interview (recorded exclusively for Criterion) with Harriet Andersson by film scholar Peter Cowie.
Images from the Playground (30min):
Martin Scorsese introduces us to 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of Bergman working on many of his films. It’s great stuff.
Monika Exploited! (13min):
In this interview, author Eric Schaefer chronicles how Bergman’s film was transformed into an exploitation picture for American audiences.
The film’s theatrical trailer.
Included is an invaluable, 28-page booklet featuring an essay by Laura Hubner, a 1958 review by Jean-Luc Godard and an auto-interview by Bergman.
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