Summer with Monika: Ingmar Bergman Directs Youth Tale Starring the Great Harriet Andersson

Ingmar Bergman directed this Swedish film in 1953, basing his scenario on a 1951 novel of the same title.

In its initial release, the film was “scandalous” and controversial due to its depiction of full nudity of the then young actress Harriet Andersson, and explicitly graphic sex scenes between her and her lover.

The film made a star of its lead actress, Harriet Andersson, with whom Bergman had been intimately involved and for whom he conceived the film as star vehicle.

The two continued to collaborate in the future, even after their romantic bond ended, in such great films like Sawdust and Tinsel, Smiles of a Summer Night, Through a Glass Darkly, and Cries and Whispers.

The tale is set in a bleak working-class milieu of Stockholm, dominated by a forest full of mushroom; the heroine, Monika (Andersson) complains that all they eat are mushrooms of different sizes and tastes

The intimate drama, which has very few characters, centers on a young couple: Harry (Lars Ekborg) and Monika (Andersson), who are both stuck in dead end jobs and boring lives when they meet.

They represent contrasts: Harry is likable and easygoing, while Monika is adventurous, impulsive and temperamental. but they fall in love.

When Monika gets in trouble at home, Harry steals his father’s boat, and the couple spend their first idyllic summer in the Stockholm archipelago.

When Monika gets pregnant, Harry happily accepts his parental responsibility and settles down with Monika and their child.  Maturing quickly, he gets a better job to provide for his family.

In contrast, Monika gets increasingly restless and unsatisfied with her maternal role and duties as homemaker. She yearns for excitement and adventure, a desire which finally leads her astray, leaving Harry behind to take care of their child.

The film ends on a highly emotional note, when Harry, now a sad single parent, recalls in a flashback the wonderfully erotic summer he had spent alone with Monika.

An intimate chamber piece for two good actors, Summer with Monika offers interesting insights about the forced, uneasy transition from being free-soul teenagers to young adults.

Summer with Monika was the first Bergman film seen by Woody Allen, exerting huge influence on him.  As he later recalled: “”The first Bergman I ever saw was that one because there was talk in the neighborhood that there was a nude scene. This was unheard of in any American film, that level of advancement. It’s so funny to think of it that way. I saw it, and it was a very, very interesting film apart from the utterly benign nude moment. A short time after that, I just happened to see Sawdust and Tinsel. I had no idea it was done by Bergman — that is, the person who’d done Summer with Monika — and it was just a fabulous movie. I was riveted in my seat by it all. I thought to myself, ‘Who is this guy?’”

Kroger Babb, who purchased the US rights to the film in 1955, two years after it was made, treated it unfairly as an exploitation flick, emphasizing the film’s nudity. Moreover, he butchered the film in the editing room, cutting its length down to 62 minutes (instead of its original 96).  Renaming the film Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, he provided suggestive promotional material, including colorful postcards (of the black-and-film) of the nude Andersson.

Cast

Harriet Andersson – Monika

Lars Ekborg– Harry

Dagmar Ebbesen – Harry’s aunt

Åke Fridell– Monika’s father

Naemi Briese – Monika’s mother

Åke Grönberg – Harry’s friend  

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