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With: Harriet Andersson, Lars Ekborg, Dagmar Ebbesen, Åke Fridell, Naemi Briese, Åke Grönberg, Sigge Fürst, John Harryson
Written by: Per Anders Fogelström, Ingmar Bergman, based on a novel by Per Anders Fogelström
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Swedish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 97
Date: 09/02/1953

Summer with Monika (1953)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sex on the Beach

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Summer with Monika was perhaps the first film of Ingmar Bergman's that received any major attention in the United States. But this was not because of Bergman himself, nor was it specifically about his lead actress Harriet Andersson. It was about the fact that Andersson appears naked (or, really, semi-naked) in the film.

Of those that saw the movie upon its initial release a good portion probably saw a butchered 62-minute version that had been cut to emphasize the more lurid aspects of the story, and promoted with images of the ripe young Andersson posed alluringly.

Now, however, the Criterion Collection has released the uncut 96-minute version. Bergman fans will discover that it's not a typical film of his, and is rather more realistic than his later films, and some would call it "minor." But by any standards, it's an excellent film, gorgeously made and emotionally powerful.

Based on a novel by Per Anders Fogelström -- and adapted by the author -- Summer with Monika begins with the title character, a flighty, outgoing type that grows tired of her cramped, crowded home, and her drunken father's behavior. She's also tired of her rotten job, where she must fight off the advances of male co-workers (years before sexual harassment lawsuits).

Bergman matched Andersson to this part before the screenplay was even delivered, and director and actress fell in love during the production. Though their romance did not last, they remained close enough that Bergman continued to cast her in other films, including Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Cries and Whispers (1972), and Fanny and Alexander (1982).

Lunching in a café, Monika spots the shy, dopey Harry (Lars Ekborg) and takes charge, prompting him to ask her for a date. He does and falls for her, hook, line and sinker. Harry also has a crummy job, involving carrying huge piles of breakable dishes and getting yelled at by three older workers. And his home life is just as bad, with a dead mother and a sickly, distant father.

The two lovers decide to run away on Harry's father's boat, spending a summer both delightful and dreary, both carefree and careless, running low on food, fighting off vandals, and getting caught stealing, but also sharing many laughs, lovely moments, and -- of course -- the promised naked romp. But trouble comes in paradise when Monika finds herself pregnant.

Bergman appears most comfortable with the outdoor sequences here, reveling in the beauty of sky, clouds, and water, as well as the ways in which the young lovers entangle with one another. As the film returns to civilization, it becomes much drearier and rooted in shabby realism, almost as if it were a cautionary educational film aimed at wayward teens.

Bergman had yet to begin asking questions about spirituality, dreams, visions, or memory, and was still sticking strictly to a straight-ahead narrative. Yet in the film's remarkable final shot, he drops a hint of things to come as Harry -- newly grown up -- gazes into a mirror holding his baby daughter (also named Monika) and remembers his summer (only the good parts, of course).

Two years later, with Andersson, Bergman would strike international box office gold with Smiles of a Summer Night, but Summer with Monika would remain one of his personal favorites, and a definite stepping stone in his career.

Criterion's Blu-Ray features a luminous black-and-white transfer and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There's a new interview with Ms. Andersson, and an older interview with Bergman as he discusses his memories of the film. We also get a half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette, and a discussion of the American exploitation release version. A liner notes booklet contains a new essay by scholar Laura Hubner, a review by Jean-Luc Godard, and a publicity piece in which Bergman "interviews" himself.

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