SUMMER WITH MONIKA (Ingmar Bergman, 1952)

Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman and actress Harriet Andersson helped each other to become international celebrities with Sommaren med Monika, which Per Anders Fogelström and Bergman adapted from the former’s novel about a couple in their late teens, Harry and Monika, who abandon their families and stockroom jobs and take off to live and love together on an island, with disastrous consequences. Monika becomes pregnant; they marry; they return to the mainland. However, when Harry enrolls in night school with the aim of becoming an engineer, Monika turns to infidelity and eventually abandons Harry and their daughter, June, to go off on her own. Their youth thus comes to a sad end—but not the film, which surprises with its complex tone as Harry, carrying June, reflects on his and Monika’s happy times together: ironically, the guiding inspiration of his new, responsible life.

With its adolescent nudity and sex, Sommaren med Monika would remain Bergman’s biggest hit in the U.S. Except for its fine flourish at the end, though, this is a stultifying film; for the lion’s share of its length, Bergman fails to shake loose the material from Fogelström’s restrictive moralism. He and black-and-white cinematographer Gunnar Fischer conjure a surfeit of spectacular imagery, especially on the “wild” island (for instance, a dazzling closeup of a black widow spider in her intricate, implicitly cosmic web), but the tack grows tedious and rings hollow. Making this particular film “gorgeous” helps nothing at all.

I yield to no one in my blissful adoration of Andersson, who is included in my list of the fifty best film actors of all time; but her unsympathetic role as Monika leaves me cold—except for one luscious, ambiguous, haunting closeup.

Distressingly resembling at times Leonardo DiCaprio, Lars Ekborg is good as Harry.

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