Summer with Monika (Ingmar Bergman / Sweden, 1953):
(Sommaren med Monika; The Story of a Bad Girl)

Young romance as a gorgeous season that inevitably fades, the Muse as the fickle bitch Ingmar Bergman can’t stop thinking about. She (Harriet Andersson) is an irrepressible carnal force, cramped at home and groped at work; a wispy delivery boy (Lars Ekborg) lights her cigarette at the café and soon they’re sailing away from the big city, ditching "the blessings of civilization" for the rugged Eden of the Stockholm archipelago. It’s at first a camping trip, a picnic, a rejection of middle-class responsibilities played out with childlike jubilation. But remember that the filmmaker is a disciple of Sjöström, and Nature grows increasingly inhospitable as supplies run out and the youngsters are forced to filch food and face the girl’s pregnancy. "A touch of spring is in the air" during their introductory brush, puppyish friskiness gives way to crankiness with the end of summer, the cityscapes receive them back like so many disapproving grown-ups. "We have been dreaming," the boy has to admit, finally. Bergman’s early inclination for adolescent torment grows tougher and more searching in this spacious thematic extension of Summer Interlude, a sensual elegy along the lines of Ovid’s Amores and very much a movie about photographing Harriet Andersson. The actress’s half-feral insolence, her ampleness, her flitting movements across the coastal rocks and her irritable idleness in the struggling couple’s apartment are watched with rapt captivation, and yet her Monika remains too volatile to just settle into an idealized siren. Rejecting domesticity for the advances of a local lothario, she slowly turns and locks eyes with the camera in a close-up of Vermeer proportions, daring it (and us) to judge: "The saddest shot in the history of cinema," wrote the young Godard, who would directly quote it at the end of Breathless and derange the rest in Pierrot le Fou. Ekborg’s own close-up is less confrontational and more wistful, a recollection of an evanescent idyll and a sigh toward adulthood, "yes, I knew a woman..." Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer. With John Harryson, Georg Skarstedt, Dagmar Ebbeson, Ake Fridell and Naemi Briese. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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