Sommaren med Monika – Summer With Monika

Sweden, 1953

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

With Harriet Andersson (Monika Eriksson), Lars Ekborg (Harry Lund)

“Sommaren med Monika – Summer With Monika” is the story of the youth looking for enjoying life to the full, breaking free from the old, the staid, the sordid. It is two very young persons, not even 20, chatting in a café, after the girl, fidgeting at her table, holding a cigarette, asked for a light for her cigarette to the boy in front of her, a request he was glad to satisfy, two cheerful, nice-looking characters welcoming the spring and mourning the fact they both have to work for their living. They leave the place, entertaining the idea of sailing away from Stockholm together, and the camera pans to the left, focusing on a trio of old, shabby men. One of them has carefully watched the couple exit the watering hole, and makes a raunchy remark on the coming of the spring, but one of the other fellows just assents vaguely, so drunk he is, while the third is snoring, in a remarkably sharp black and white shot highlighting the lack of vigor and glamour of the guys – youth, that is another thing.

A most enticing and disturbing gaze, from a most exciting and troublesome girl: Harriet Andersson

But not an easy one: Harry Lund is a lonely 19-year old, living with a father who is always absent or sick, a man who still struggles to come to terms with his wife’s death. Even if son and father live in a comfortable apartment, they are not well-off, and Harry Lund is an employee at a glassware and china workshop, and a rather incompetent one to the eyes of his boss and fellow workers, a job that in fact he dislikes, and he is more thrilled with daydreaming than willing to deliver goods. Monika Eriksson lives with a big family but in a small place: so she resents the lack of intimacy, barely puts up with an authoritative mother, an alcoholic father, and rambunctious young brothers. She works for a vegetables dealer, but her beauty and youth mean she is harassed. So neither characters can claim they get satisfaction, but on the contrary blame life – even if there is a big difference: clearly Harry Lund is resigned to his fate and is not really angry but rather disappointed by his father; but Monika Eriksson is far more obstreperous, demanding a lot from life and barely tolerant of what surrounds her.

The film is then the story of a long journey down the river, a long series of gorgeous shots taken from a boat or a bank, images of the sailing that the two young lovers have overnight and audaciously started. After the café chat things went fast, they went out, they flirted. And Monika abruptly left her family, in an outburst of rage. So Harry looked after her, lost his job, and decided to use his father’s boat for that big travel they once dreamed about, in the café. This is now summertime. The sun is bright and hot, the water is shimmering, the nature is blooming. They love each other, the beauty of the female body is as blinding and mesmerizing as the sun. Nothing could spoil, it seems, the endless party, the boundless love, not even the wickedness of a former flirt of Monika who tries to trash their belongings, but is beaten badly.

But money is lacking, and Monika gets pregnant. There was in the first part of the simple, wonderful film, a difference between them. It grows bigger now: Harry is worried, wants to look after his mistress and their baby, is keen to come back to the big city and to get a job. But Monika is not interested, she yells how much she dislikes the idea of coming back to the normal life. She leads him into a savage life, even outlawry. But she must cope with the reality and the film seems to be rewound: again a long series of gorgeous taken from a boat or a bank, the boat going up the river now, right to Stockholm, and not away.

The third part brings the narrative to a full circle: it is the autumn, and then another winter. The couple gets married and the boy gets a job and starts to learn engineering: a few months fly by fast. The key, at the end of the winter, is the birth of the daughter. On the surface, everything is fine. But a night spoiled by the cries of the baby reveals that harmony has given way to disharmony. Monika cannot stand the baby, the absence of Harry, who is either working or studying, the lack of money, of comfort, of amusement. One year after the promising spring that made them a couple, they go through a spring of discontent.

Nothing can be done about it, it just can be observed. In fact, the film forces the audience to eye the eye of the storm: this is the most bewitching shot of the film, as Monika is having fun in a bar with another of her former flirts. She slowly turns her head left, and stares into the camera, which moves a little closer and stays trained on that stunning, intense, fascinating, troubling eye – the candid look at the camera of the actress opens the doors to a soul that looks like a gigantic fault line, a daunting pit, a monstrous revelation. The narrative’s pace then gets faster, the disaster proves beyond repair. Monika Eriksson vanishes. Harry Lund is doomed to move out their apartment and to wander in the streets with his baby in the arms.

At one point, he stumbles upon the showcase of the workshop where he used to work, which features a looking glass. That mirror allows another candid look at the camera – but the dejected boy’s stare is right away mixed with fuzzy images of the second part, that summer with Monika. The audience observes a man looking at himself, reflecting back on the past, and gazing at them: rueful, painful moment when Harry must once again his fate: a young man who got dazzled by beauty, the source of unforgettable moments but now a source of bitterness, a youth that got carried away under our sympathetic eyes. “Sommaren med Monika – Summer With Monika” is the gracious but lucid chronicle of a dream turned into a nightmare, of the amazing complexity of loving a woman, of a girl who is as much a desire than a torment, an enigma to her lover and to us, a wild creature hard to forget but set to tread her own path, whatever the consequences. It is also a cinematographic love story with nature, youth’s strength and hope, an actress’ talent and charm.

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