Summer with Monica

Filmed for the most part en plein air, Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 film Summer with Monika paints provocatively onto the canvas of 1950s Swedish societal norms. A self-proclaimed bourgeois filmmaker, Bergman, however, does not paint without pause for thought, or in his case a cunning sense of reflection. The film – the story of Monika (Harriet Andersson) and Harry (Lars Ekborg) – exudes young, impulsive, rebellious love, but stops short at completely erasing the social institutions that surround the two young lovers: namely fidelity, the sanctity of marriage and the prospect of children. These – together with female domesticity and the abuse Monika receives from her drunken father – form the anatomy of a social body that the film’s characters attempt to escape from, and Bergman to pull apart. As one socialist Swedish critic would later write: “the bourgeoisie is a carcass. Nevertheless, with Bergman it moves.”

Despite Bergman’s conservative background, his work often expresses a need for ideological movement. The central island setting for Summer with Monika isn't Fårö – the location that would become synonymous with Bergman’s later body of work as portrayed in Mia Hansen-Løve’s recent film Bergman Island – but the island of Ornö. Away from the smoky restrictions of Stockholm’s port, the archipelago represents the cherished fantasy of an idyllic summer of love; the couple’s journeying between Ornö and the city – aboard their slowly chugging motorboat – creates a double vision of this idyll and the stark reality of the duo’s lives awaiting them back beyond the docks.

We get an early glimpse of the film’s incompatibility with the idyll during Monika and Harry’s courting trip to the cinema, sat in the front row of a glamorous Hollywood romance as the film’s final scene draws to a suitably sensual, albeit sedate close. Whilst Monika’s sobbing foreshadows the unsustainability of this type of love, Harry’s yawn gives away Bergman’s disinterest in this cinematised type of life – where, as Monika says they go “to clubs and dances and all that”. This fancied cinematic lifestyle conforms neither to Bergman’s dark diegetic tradition nor does it agree with his stomach.

Saying this, the relationship the film depicts is as giddy as young love gets. The film offers more than mere glimpses of the unbridled, ecstatic love Monika and Harry share for each other, and Andersson’s on-view, free-wheeling sexuality provoked much prudishness amongst critics.

However, as ever, Bergman ducks the cliché. Whilst there are plenty of hot-headed scenes, more than suggestive of the director’s feelings towards Andersson — their love affair has been well documented — Monika’s lust shifts between loving seduction and defiant betrayal as she comes to lament not only the oncoming end of summer, but her relationship with Harry.

In what has become a defining image for Bergman’s directorial career, Monika sits in a smoky bar with a cigarette dangling from her fingers, as she flirts with an unknown man at her table. This woman, now a mother and a wife, is about to initiate an affair, but before she does, she turns to the camera and stares at the audience beyond. Bergman emphatically breaks the fourth wall — cinema’s voyeuristic illusion — as he does many other rules in a film that retains its power and sense of modernity, nearly 60 years after it was made.

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