A handsome young man with always-perfect hair and a boring, sickly widower father meets a vivacious girl from a turbulent household. And they fall in love, run off together, and it’s perfect. Or it would be, but the movie sticks with them long enough for her to get pregnant, forcing an eventual return to civilization, at which point she makes herself useless, sleeping around while he slaves to make a living and tries to save for their future. It does not end well for the couple. But at least they’ve got their health.
Beautiful, amazing looking film shot by cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, who shot all of Bergman’s most famous films in the 40’s and 50’s. Harriet Anderson would appear in some more Bergman films as well as Dogville and The Day the Clown Cried (really). Harry (Lars Ekborg) wasn’t as excellent as Monika was, and thus was only rewarded with a small role in The Magician.
Released in the States in 1956 as an hour-long edit retitled Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, which is the version that hit U.S. arthouses like a bomb, shocking people who’d gotten used to boringly chaste homemade product like From Here to Eternity, leading horny adults to start frequenting foreign films, which continued until home video destroyed the trend since now we could see all the bare breasts we wanted at home.
It happens near the end of the story, after an idyllic summer between two young lovers, Monika and Harry, has turned sour and they awake from their idealistic dreams to an existence of poverty and acrimony. Monika sits in a café smoking a cigarette, about to bed another lover. The camera closes in on her face—Bergman’s calling card of extreme close-ups during moments of intense personal anguish. Yet, in an instant uncharacteristic of the director, Monika looks directly at the camera as everything surrounding her fades to black. The shot holds for nearly a minute, preventing our escape as Monika stares us down, challenging us to pass judgment on her. It would be easy to scorn her decision, but Bergman provides us with no pedestal from which to condescend. If we are to reprimand her, we must confront her directly. It’s unnerving and brilliant, and this moment alone is worth consideration for anyone even slightly familiar with the director.
Bergman: “I have never made a less complicated film than Summer with Monika. We simply went off and shot it, taking great delight in our freedom.”