“Monika, we have to make something real out of our lives. We’ll care for each other. I’ll study and get a decent job, so we can get married and have a nice house, you and me and the little one on its way.”
‘Summer with Monika’, directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1953, is a Swedish romantic drama starring Lars Ekborg and Harriet Andersson. Andersson plays Monika, a free-spirited teenager who meets and falls in love with Harry, played by Ekborg. Both are trapped in a soul-less existence – Monika with an abusive father, Harry in a meaningless job. One spring Monika leaves her family and persuades Harry to quit his job, steal a boat and travel down the river to the countryside. Once there the pair revel in the pastoral bliss, but then Monika becomes pregnant, a stranger burns their possessions and they run out of food. The pregnancy proves to be the making of Harry, however. Returning to the city, he takes responsibility, marries Monika and begins to forge a career to take care of the baby and his wife. Monika cannot her impetuous free-spiritedness though, and after an affair she abandons Harry and leaves him with their child. It’s a bittersweet movie. The scenes of escape are genuinely cathartic, especially when contrasted with the claustrophobic city scenes. There’s also a traditionally Bergman sense of the pagan throughout, with the focus on the elements and nature, placing the characters as a part of them rather than simply within them. As with Pasolini’s ‘The Gospel According to St Matthew’, I’m fairly sure I spotted a moment lifted by Robin Hardy for ‘The Wicker Man’. There is one moment in this film that really hit home: at a moment of crisis, Monika seems to break the forth wall and stares right down the camera as if asking the audience for their advice or opinion. It’s a moment as shocking as anything in Bergman’s own ‘Persona’ or Haneke’s ‘Funny Games’.
Would I recommend it? It doesn’t have the nostalgia of ‘Wild Strawberries’, the profundity of ‘The Seventh Seal’, the experimentalism of ‘Persona’ or the sheer genre thrills of ‘The Magician’, but it has a spirit of its own that makes it a beautiful and individual movie. Watch in a double bill with Jean Renoir’s ‘Partie de campagne’ for another trip down the river.