10 January 2005 | Quinoa1984
a sleeper-classic, naturalistic, with trademark-Bergman imagery
Summer with Monika is a very fine, sometimes masterful showcase of what would be to come with Ingmar Bergman's more notable and personal dramas. That is, in the technical side of things; here he uses a lot of shots that are simply there for the location, the imagery of the rocks and beach and waters where the characters are at. It's much more in a sense of a documentary of these two people than a usual tale of young love. But it's a good story at the core, and in it Bergman also establishes one of the actresses that would become crucial to his career.
Harriet Andersson is remarkable as the happy, though high strung and (as one in my generation might call) 'needy' Monika, who works at a vegetable stand. She meets Harry (Ekberg) in a bar one day, and the two hit it off after later seeing a movie. Monika's home life is the pits, as is Harry's work environment. So, they act on an impulse to get away for the summer to an island. Out of that comes what is very natural in a relationship- happiness, love, despair, hunger, and the oncoming (unplanned) child. The third act goes as how one might expect, but the way it's filmed and acted is still extraordinary.
Once Bergman gets his film on the water, he just shoots and shoots. Some of this may not seem to go anywhere, some of it may just seem like shots of animals and rocks. But I have a feeling Bergman was likely inspired by either painters or the neo-realists with their documentary feel. If nothing else, everything feels very much alive and real with how the characters talk and act to each other, and that doesn't lose its ground after fifty years.
Some shots here and there (one when Monika is out one night, when Harry is not at home, is intriguing on how it just stays on her, and how it's lit) are some of the more memorable ones of the 1950's for the director. I also liked how the characters were believably stuck in the middle of a very plausible dilemma- do they keep on going on with a great, bit love affair alone and off from civilization, or do they face up to what they have to do with living? It's a tragic, somewhat obvious conclusion, but the way it's told is how it scores some points.
Basically, Summer with Monika is a fresh, dark love story that may appeal to those looking for a good alternative to a film of today loaded with cynicism or delight in the shrill conventions with the characters. One may have seen characters like Monika and Harry in other films, yet they are fitting for the style of Bergman's precise bittersweet whimsy and depth.