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Summer With Monika (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 9, 2012

Although it took three viewings for Summer Interlude to click with me, I’ve been a supporter of Monika from the beginning.  It suffers only in the sense that there are so many great, powerful films in Bergman’s body of work that it feels a bit underwhelming by comparison.  But if we’re going by numbers (and I do love me some numbers), today I’m going to call it my #14 Bergman.  Which sounds like a low number, but it isn’t considering how many I’ve seen and how much I adore his films.  It’s comfortably sandwiched between Smiles of a Summer Night and The Virgin Spring.

In one of my earlier reviews, I said that the movie is all about the third act.  A curious comment, but in my defense, I was watching under strained conditions.  It is true that the third act is when things get really meaty and all the dramatic tension between Monika and Harry flares up.  It’s got that amazing close-up of Harriet Andersson, where the lights dim in the background and we’re confronted with nothing but her face.  Her eyes are doing so much in that long, long shot.  Reflecting on what she’s lost, contemplating what she’s about to do, judging herself and begging us not to judge her… or daring us to.  It’s one of a series of astonishing Bergman close-ups (and is repeated, in a variation, at the end with Lars Ekborg).

But the first two acts are nothing to sneeze at.  The rebellious adolescent escapades of Monika and Harry (more Monika than Harry, but for a while at least, he’s more than game) are joyful, beautifully photographed, narratively sound and psychologically rich.  Little by little we see the darkness begin to creep into their relationship, small disagreements that hint at what the weight of adult responsibility will bring down upon them.  That awkward fight with Lelle, no carefully choreographed fisticuffs here, it’s all flailing hands and grabbing whatever will give the other guy a good thumping.  The breezy, carefree shot of the boat leaving Stockholm at the end of the first act is mirrored by the somber, ominous shot of the boat returning to Stockholm at the end of the second.

Throughout, we are captivated by Andersson.  I can think of few performances that personify youthful sensuality so enticingly.  Her natural eroticism electrifies the screen, and it’s not hard to see why the film would be repackaged as an exploitation flick in America.  She’s not just a cute face and sweet curves… she makes Monika so utterly alive and true that for a moment I actually forgot I was watching a character in a fiction.  Lars Ekborg gets the short end of the stick when it comes to discussing the film, which is unfair.  He’s very good as well.  But Andersson so completely steals focus, as Monika does in the world of the film.  Love how willing she is to get animalistic when the need arises.

This sounds like a rave review, doesn’t it?  The film does have a bit of a slow start (though one with some interesting moments) and as a whole, it does seem slight next to others by Bergman that are more complex or stylistically impressive or emotionally raw.  It doesn’t quite have a “sweep you off your feet” or “kick you in the gut” quality.  But it only falls just a hair short of greatness.  Rating: Very Good


2 Responses to “Summer With Monika (rewatch)”

  1. Jessica said

    Such a nice review about one of the more easily accessable and straight forward of Bergman’s movie. I’ve seen it a couple of times, though it’s very long ago last time, but I remember it as beautiful, with a lot of beatiful shots of the Swedish summer nights in the archipelago outside next to Stockholm.

  2. Yes, that Gunnar Fischer certainly knows his way around a camera. The middle section (summer) is gorgeous and idyllic.

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