By chance, they meet at a small café in the spring. She needs her cigarette lit and he has a match. They set a date to see a movie. After, they watch the Stockholm stars together. “I guess we kind of like each other, huh?” says Monika.
Summer comes just in time. The two take off on Harry’s father’s boat and escape to the archipelagos. They spend their days out on the boat, drinking, making love, cooking for each other. What Harry and Monika don’t get is that they’re essentially playing house and in the precise situation they left town to avoid. It all makes Monika’s statement, “I want summer to go on just like this,” so ironic and tragic.
There is also a great fantasy element to Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953). How many of us have had or dreamed of a summer fling? Harry and Monika’s is ideal, until they realize what we already know: they always end, and that if you reach winter together, the freshness is gone.
Summer with Monika was marketed in the United States as an exploitation film by distributor Kroger Babb, who cut the film by a third of its running time and retitled it Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl. At times, with glimpses of Andersson’s then-21-year-old body, you can see Babb (1945’s Mom and Dad) would find it easy to take advantage and sell the nudity and his own perversion. But it’s what we have, the complete 97-minute version, that is a wonderful work, one marked equally by the ideas of idyllic escape and broken hope.
For those who have yet to see a Bergman film, Summer with Monika, light on trademark themes yet distinctly Bergman, may be a good first choice. Though not as revered as Fanny and Alexander, Persona and The Seventh Seal, lovers of the Swedish master will find it’s just as important to his oeuvre.
Peter Cowie Interviews Harriet Andersson (24:35): In this interview, recorded in January 2012, Cowie sits down with Andersson to discuss Summer with Monika and her relationship with Bergman.
Image from the Playground (29:55): This documentary directed by Stig Björkman consists of on-set footage shot by Bergman, as well as audio interviews with Bergman, Andersson and frequent Bergman collaborator Bibi Andersson (Persona, Wild Strawberries). Included is an introduction by Martin Scorsese.
Monika Exploited! (12:58): In this interview, author Eric Schaefer (“Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!”: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959) discusses Kroger Babb’s role in turning Summer with Monika into an exploitation release.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 28-page booklet featuring three pieces: an essay titled “Summer Dreaming” by film scholar Laura Hubner, a 1958 review by Jean-Luc Godard and a 1953 publicity piece.