Summer With Monika (1953) (orig: Sommaren med Monika)

“Summer With Monika” original film poster, not to be confused with…

Ingmar Bergman could direct “Tommy Boy,” and make it dark and stern.

Whew. I just had to say that. Confession is good for the soul.

Tonight, I watched “Summer With Monika,” Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 story of two young people stuck in dead-end jobs, living miserable lives in Stockholm. Monika is played by Harriet Andersson in her first starring role. She plays Monika as flirtatious and fickle, quick to move from laughing to crying. She’s also kind of a demanding, ungrateful witch to her parents and siblings and, eventually, to her young husband.

Anyway, one afternoon in a coffeehouse, she runs into Harry (Lars Ekborg). Harry is 18 to her 17, restrained where she is whimsical. That first night, they go to the movies, a…I don’t know the Swedish words for “chick flick,” but this was one of them. By the end of the film, Monika’s sobbing her eyes out, and Harry’s yawning.

Over time, they come up with a romantic fantasy about one  day taking a boat, and leaving the city, heading off to live alone on an island, two souls in perfect and eternal love. As it passes, they both lose their jobs, so they do just that. They take Harry’s father’s boat, and leave Stockholm.

Indeed, their fantasy comes true, for awhile. They kiss and dance and explore the islands, and they have a ball. Until Monika becomes pregnant. For awhile, they keep up with their archipelago adventure, until–realizing they don’t have shit, save for a perpetually refilling gas tank–they decide to return to Stockholm. The fantasy is still alive, but it takes a side-track. Harry gets a job and takes night classes, trying to improve himself so he can care for his new wife and daughter. Monika is bored out of her skull, indifferent toward the baby, and whines shrewishly about wanting a new dress, or to go out, or how crappy their life together is.

Eventually, Monika looks elsewhere for the spark their life is missing. You can guess what spark, and how she finds it.

I get the impression that Harry and baby June will end up being just fine. Monika will flit from relationship to relationship, and maybe she’ll be fine with that, too.

Still, if she weren’t so darned cute, I’d want a piano to fall on her head.

If you’re keeping score at home, I’d put this in the “lesser Bergman” category. It’s not a masterpiece like “The Seventh Seal” or “Fanny & Alexander.” It’s not even especially Bergmany. It doesn’t plunge us into existential crisis, or explore deep concepts and Big Thoughts. At the bottom line, it’s a standard cautionary tale of two teen-aged lovers. They play out their escape fantasy, but the dream ends when the bills pile up and diapers need changing.

Although her character could be shrill and bratty, Harriet Andersson shows a huge presence. There’s something magical about her face, some ability to bare her soul through her eyes and lips. Bergman chose this to be her debut, and she delivers an excellent performance. (note: she was also schtupping Mr Bergman at the time) Even after their romance ended, Andersson went on to be part of Bergman’s “stable” of regular actors, and she starred in some of the “high-Bergman” films he went on to make.

This would be a hard film to recommend, for a couple of reasons. If you’re looking for your standard, classical Ingmar Bergman film, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a light-hearted tale of two lovers running away to deserted islands, this probably isn’t what you would be imagining. It’s a good film, well acted and well made. It’s just hard to make it fit.

Grade: B

Note: This movie, despite being released in 1953, contains images of a nekkid female hiney running across some rocks. Also, there are a couple of boob glimpses. Nothing gratuitous or extended. However, thanks to good old American ingenuity, this 96 minute, artistic Swedish film was carved down to 62 minutes, redubbed, and enhanced with some bonus additional nekkid film. Bergman did not do this to his own movie (He could see Harriet Andersson naked anytime he wanted to, and he made his film his way, dammit). This, er, reimagined abomination? It remains to this day the most widely seen Bergman film in this country. Let’s stay classy, America. Oh, and they changed the poster just a bit.

…its skanky American cousin.

(If you could find one of the 1953 pervs who went to see this, and show him, say, YouPorn.com? His poor perv brain would explode within 15 seconds)

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