Summer with Monika

One of Bergman's early works, and mostly an excuse for Harriet Andersson to be as sexy as possible. Bergman recounts that several filmmakers were racing to work with her, though not many actually valued her abilities as an actress. Bergman did, and his main recollection of the film is that it was cheap to make and fun to shoot (and he did also manage to get in her pants, kicking off a four-year affair).

Andersson's Monika is a force of nature – cooped up in the city, she is at her happiest where social expectations are lifted and she can escape the poverty and abuse in her family by going sailing around the archipelago with a good looking boy in his father's boat. Bergman underlines the nature theme at the beginning by having one of the drinkers in the pub remark that the young people's friskiness is a sign that spring is coming. We then cycle over the summer, autumn and winter of a relationship, where the demands of adulthood prove too much for Monika and she has to escape once more.

The film feels longer than its short running time. The pace is languid – with a great deal of set-up and denouement occuring in long theatrical takes allowing for plenty of insight into the families and jobs of the two lovers. Monika doesn't come out of it too well in the final third – too restless to be a homemaker but too lazy to work, she wants to enjoy her youth. But perhaps we should blame the environment she is in – caught at the crossroads between the glamour of Hollywood and the constraints of tradition, where female ambition is confined to bringing up babies, but the temptations of films, bars and sex linger outside. Her abandonment of her two families is spurred by moments of physical abuse – the men in her life also don't have safe ways of expressing their frustration. Everyone is both a victim and a perpetrator.

The French new wave embraced the film, and given its theme of young lovers throwing off the shackles of society perhaps that's not surprising. But just as important was the moment where Andersson has her cigarette lit by a lothario at the bar while her husband is away, leans back and then looks directly into the lens, almost daring the viewer to condemn her impropriety. In Bergman's account that was her idea, and the first time this had happened in the history of cinema. Bergman holds the shot, but it is only a spark of transgressive brilliance in an otherwise slight film.

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