Sunday, January 13, 2013

Summer with Monika

Summer with Monika (1953)
Drama, Romance, 98 minutes, Swedish Language
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Harriet Andersson, Lars Ekborg and Dagmar Ebbesen

One of the things I love most about Blu-ray is that films from the 50s and earlier can be brought back to life. Summer with Monika is a Criterion release, so you know that it looks as good as it can. For a 60-year-old film, the results are most pleasing.

The story is about human relationships, and how our perspectives alter as we mature. Harry is 19 when he's approached by Monika in a cafe. She's very forward and asks him if he'll take her to the cinema. After he agrees, the two decide that they need to be together. The title suggests that the relationship might not last forever, but stop reading now if you want to avoid further spoilers.

Both have boring jobs, and Harry soon follows Monika's lead after she quits. She seeks refuge with him, claiming that her drunken father is abusive, and Harry does his best to provide for her. In order to have privacy, he takes her to his father's boat and they sleep there. This is the start of an adventure in the style of a road movie, but this one involves a boat. The two sail to secluded areas and live with a certain amount of freedom. The main problem is their lack of money, but they are not above stealing in order to survive. It's like an ancient cross between Something Wild, Pierrot le fou, and Grave of the Fireflies, but nobody's life is in danger.

Things follow their natural course, with Monika eventually revealing that she is pregnant. It's here that Harry realizes that his idyllic life will soon have to end, and that the couple will need to be more responsible if they are to raise a child, but Monika hates the thought of returning to her old life. When she accepts the inevitable, their lives change. Harry's life starts to feel like Henry Spencer's existence in Eraserhead, as he is forced to find time to study, work, support his family, and take care of his baby. Monika doesn't seem ready to be a mother at all and wants her life to go back to the way it was.

One interesting sequence shows the differing outlooks of teenagers and middle-aged people. The younger couple feel that they have to rebel and escape a traditional life in order to be happy, but one of the older characters embraces the feel of the city after being away for a few days.

Bergman uses the industrial smoke and natural mist to enhance the dreamlike quality of their romance, and reinforces it by having his two characters smoke cigarettes throughout the film. This is a fairly straightforward look at young romance, and shows how society viewed people who had children before they were married. If you want to see how Stockholm looked in the 50s, this is like an historical document.

Summer with Monika won't drastically alter your perspective on life, but it's a well-told romance with plenty of realism. Fans of the film, or Bergman, should definitely invest in the Criterion Blu-ray.

Overall score 3.5/5

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