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Summer With Monika
cast: Harriet Anderrson, Lars Ekborg, Dagmar Ebbesen, Ake Fridell and Naemi Briese

director: Ingmar Bergman

92 minutes (PG) 1953
Tartan DVD Region '0' retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Ingmar Bergman was surprisingly prolific in the tenderfoot years of his career but this was the earliest film of international note, much of the attention brought to it by the young, comely and alluring Harriet Andersson, the Monika of the title, her barely restrained libido, her frequent ever-so-natural undressing and at one point the naked bathing, all of which had the Swedish film board and film executives roof-bound that year. Of the Bergman films that came before, only Torment (1948) survives with similar global regard, though that was a first venture and script-only credit for the soon-to-be director. Summer With Monika (aka: Sommaren med Monika) was made only a season apart from his previous feature film outing with the new film's shoot driven into another season still, the autumn becoming the new elemental backdrop for the young lovers' archipelago adventure that takes up the middle third of the film, the comfort and affinity the two young stars having for one another engendered by the need for a re-shoot following the ruination of the original actual summer footage at the processing lab. Either side of the 'summertime' romantic interlude come the hard at work and tough goes life episodes in town and city, the couple being introduced and having produced on each side respectively, in the latter a child and arduously kept family unit. The grimmer aspects book-ending the romance serve to heighten the middle segment's delight and escapement.
   Monika is endearing in episodes one and two, a forward and forthright girl, she approaches her targeted romantic lead and clings to him. It is soon learned by the viewer that she is bruised fruit, free with her body, a postwar teenager from the slum quarter with a great need to be loved and seeing no harm in her availability to all comers. The penny finally drops in her pretty 17-year-old head and she now wants no more of their mauling, her romanticism fuelled by the American movies being toured. Harry (Lars Ekborg) is troubled also, browbeaten at the glass warehouse, motherless since the age of eight and with a father currently, worryingly ailing and with a hospital appointment due, the young man too has a need to get out. And so they do, through the Swedish waterways on a small boat, towards Stockholm, the black and white dreamscapes of beach, pale ground and swaying reeds isolating them and protecting their love-borne holiday in a permanent away from the grind and molestation. The fulsome Monika is limited in wardrobe by the urgency of their flight and her budding sensuality and her brazenness are explored by the fixated camera and direction. Evocative enough in her decisiveness, they are a minute into their first conversation when she precipitates their great escape with the declaration "Lets clear off and travel the world," a tell tale sign that anything that eventually led to their departure was a handy excuse for it as far as the girl was concerned. At the first date she directs the distant and worrisome young man into the snog, so basic an intimacy standing as her evidence that they are 'the greatest lovers in the world', long before he has been seduced sufficiently to concur. She is piloting the relationship, he the boat.
   The final third sees the birth of a daughter, rented accommodation, Monika staked to the bare boards of their small apartment by the low income brought in by Harry, who is often called away from home to install machinery. Delightful when free, she is a selfish monster when held captive by a child and family. Monika sees other men and out in the nightclub she turns to the camera and stares at the viewer contemptibly and coldly, spelling out, lest anyone was still mistaken in her, the degree to which she does not care as to how anyone might think louse of her. The message could not be written larger or clearer; it is an incredible moment. At the close of the film it is father and child together alone, he reflecting (literally so also, in a mirror) on the glorious summer with the cruel nymph on and by the water, the title of the movie directly and deliberately accounting only the middle section of the film, emphasising its importance. In the young director the teenage loving and lusting would also have been the middle of time, it is what the past was intended towards and what the young man's stricken future resulted from. A wonderful time almost worth the recent and oncoming travails, indeed 15 years on from first viewing it, your reviewer only recalls the hazy middle act of the film, conspiring to recall the film as an unusually optimistic offering from the director, which it ultimately cannot allude to be, reducing the happiest time of our lives to a kernel of tortured regret. The tragedy is complete, full circle, Harry's father coughing the tune of the grave, he will soon be left in circumstances that he is all to familiar with, raising a child alone, with not even the maternal cooperation over the formative half of the daughter's childhood that he was granted.
   Beautifully filmed by Gunnar Fischer, the reproduction quality is high; details from the cobbled street scenes to the punting about Orn Island are vivid in their black and white glory. Characters around a café table are composed as in a great painting; they observe the burgeoning romance and comment on the air that fancifully carries it, old men also living on youthful highs and memories, distant summers that had to count, that qualify their lives. The miserable, turgid score drifts in thankfully rarely, the third section made downbeat largely by the automatic comparison that is made to the earlier chapters. A rushed job twice over it may have been but none of that shows. An illusion has been successfully drawn of a smoothly erected and considerate tale of the young love trap and its almost inevitable conclusions.
   DVD extras: star and director filmographies, stills gallery, notes by Bergman expert Philip Strick.

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