Harry Lund, play by Lars Ekborg, is a young man working a stressful first job as a delivery boy for a stockroom of glass and porcelain. He is quiet, serious, and melancholy. Monika, played by Harriet Andersson, is a young woman toiling away in the cellar-turned-stockroom of a grocer. She is loud, impulsive, and mercurial. They meet, they fall in love, and then, they disastrously fall out of it. Yet, that makes it sound so simple.
What struck me about Summer with Monika
was how well it captured young romance. In fact for the first few scenes of the movie, I thought the tone was a bit too positive to be a Bergman film. When Monika first meets Harry, after he nervously has trouble lighting a match, she says to him, “Let’s go away and never come back. We’ll see the whole wide world.” They subsequently steal Harry’s father’s boat and have an adventure that reminded me of Moonrise Kingdom
. Unlike the quirky preteen Wes Anderson version, this movie refuses to shy away from the character flaws and aftermath that come from running away from all your problems.
This movie is punctuated by long scenic shots and closeups of the main characters’ faces. Although many of those shots are beautifully filmed and effective, they give the film a little bit of an awkward, unfocused feel. The most poignant moments are when we as the audience are forced to play voyeur, unable to break away from Harry and Monika’s flaws, fights, and make outs.
The character of Monika is written such an understanding insight. It’s easy to forget that this movie was released in 1953, since her depiction is still incredibly relevant and even modern feeling. While she ultimately ends up being the antagonist, you see a little of what makes her tick. She’s hard to sympathize with. She’s loud. She’s moody and whiny. Yet there are several times when the film shows her point of view. There’s a scene at her terrible job where she’s basically constantly sexually harassed. At another point, her dad goes from a joking, happy drunk to slapping her to crying. She is not blameless in the end, but she’s also not just presented as a two dimensional floozy. She’s a realistic, incredibly flawed, female character.
Summer With Monika takes the notion of idealistic young love and rips it apart and dissects it in intimate detail. Andersson’s performance as the fiery Monika is wonderful and Ekborg pulls off the young, naive, melancholy loverboy with ease. In fact by the time you get to the downer Bergman ending, it’s really no surprise. It is an unflinching peek into how quickly things can go from seeming idyllic to completely falling apart.