Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The eyes have it… Summer with Monika (1953)

I’ve had a backlog of Ingmar Bergman films to watch/re-watch and haven’t been able to get round to it. You need to be in the right frame of mind for Persona, The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring… maybe something lighter with sun, scenery and young love would do?

Summer with Monika (Sommaren med Monika) promises all of these things but has a serious side that connects it with the director’s trade mark themes. Yes there is young love as 19-year old Harry Lund (Lars Ekborg), a half-hearted worker in a glass and porcelain warehouse, falls for the energetic, unpredictable and exciting 17-year old vegetable worker, Monika (Harriet Andersson).

Monika flees home after her father beats her and Harry puts her up in his father’s boat. Sensing adventure, she persuades him to leave his job and take them both on a summer holiday. Off they go through the open waters of Stockholm along the coast to bays and inlets, luxuriating in the sun and the sheer freedom…

Yet freedom has consequences and soon the couple encounter difficulties; they fight off a camper intent on ruining their idyll, almost get caught stealing food and run out of money and provisions. Most significantly Monika becomes pregnant.
They return to the city and marry. Harry begins to apply himself to study aiming to secure the future of his nascent family; he works hard and has a clear resolution of his path forward. For Monika things are less clear…younger than Harry she cannot settle to the pattern of life with the absolute responsibility of her new child.

Bergman presents two striking close ups of the two towards the end of the film, in one Monika’s huge dark eyes look directly at the camera mirroring a sudden blackness behind her: equal voids enveloping a future that is completely uncertain.

Harry’s close up comes whilst he cradles his daughter. He is illuminated and clear – in his eyes and his mind – about what Monika meant to him and what he must now do. A grown up ending in every sense of the word.

Summer with Monika is a joy and feels, to a Brit, much like the “kitchen sink” films of the mid-60’s. The swedes, not for the first time, were well ahead with this measured and unjudgemental, depiction of youthful hedonism and its consequences. In the US the film was promoted as a risqué “continental” "art" film with a jazzy soundtrack from easy legend Les Baxter. This does it a great disservice.

Harriet Andersson is indeed eye-catching but she also puts in a superb, naturalistic and “fresh” performance. No wonder Bergman asked her back for so many films: she was the real deal and not just a girl who had a way with a sweater. Lars Ekborg is excellent as well with authentic improvisation and the clumsy, believable, expressiveness of a teenager. His transformation at the end is every bit as convincing as Monika’s enduring youth.

Throughout it all Bergman directs with surety of tone and consistency of vision. His landscapes are stunning and, as with Stiller and Sjostrom (later to star in Wild Strawberries fact fans!), he uses the Scandinavian scenery to great effect.

There’s a lonesome, stillness to this film that acts as a counterpoint to the youthful energy on show. The first of his run of really great films? I don’t know enough to say but it’s certainly an exceptionally good one! I’ll be catching up with the aforementioned backlog more rapidly now I think!

Summer with Monika is criminally under-priced at Amazon. Have a really good look.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul

    Perhaps one of my favorite Bergman's, but has so many!!. Yesterday I was watching Tyesnaden , curiously.

    Very good post.