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TCM Imports - September 2013
Remind Me

Summer with Monika

Summer with Monika (1953) may not have been Ingmar Bergman's first film to find distribution outside of Sweden, but it was the one which firmly established his international reputation. Its brief nudity and frank treatment of a youthful affair drew in the crowds, and its fresh visual style and natural performances inspired other filmmakers, especially the budding New Wave in France. In a 2003 video introduction recorded for Summer with Monika, Bergman stated: "I've always felt great affection for this film for several reasons. Partly because I think it's a good movie. "

In late 1951, during a studio shutdown at Svensk Filmindustri, Bergman directed several commercials for Bris Soap. In early 1952 he became a director at the Malmö City Theatre. Finally, in the summer of 1952 he was able to make films again: first the comedy Waiting Women (1952) and then Summer with Monika. In his video introduction Bergman further recalled: "It was all a stroke of luck. I met [Per Anders] Fogelström, who wrote the novel Summer with Monika, on Kungsgatan. He'd written other scripts for Svensk Filmindustri, and we knew each other pretty well from before. I asked him if he was working on anything [and he said] 'about two people with lousy jobs, each adrift on their own.' 'Really?' I said. 'That sounds like a film. Could you turn it into a script?" Elsewhere, Bergman has claimed that Fogelström actually wrote the film treatment before completing the novel. Some members of the board at Svensk Filmindustri objected to the script as "filth" and, according to the scholar Hubert Cohen, resigned because of its subject matter.

For Harriet Andersson, the film brought stardom and initiated a close collaboration with Bergman that lasted many years. In a video interview with Peter Cowie, Harriet Andersson recalls that she had dropped out of school and began studying theater at 15½. She played in a few small film roles before finally landing the female lead in Gustaf Molander's Defiance (1952). She also performed in the variety show at Stockholm's Scala Theatre, where Bergman saw her perform, in his own words, "in a negligee, singing suggestive songs, with amazing charisma." Certainly, the complex persona of Monika that Harriet Anderson creates is unforgettable, exuding a natural and unashamed sexuality, immature but also understandably dissatisfied with her dreary surroundings in working-class Stockholm. Even as she becomes an erotic object for the camera, Andersson projects a strong will and defiance; indeed, in one of the film's most iconic shots, she stares directly at the camera when she picks up a man in a café. In that respect, the Bergman scholar Laura Hubner calls Summer with Monika "a key film in Bergman's career, solidifying his move toward an increased focus on women's perspectives." The male lead, Lars Ekborg (1926-1969), who had previously played Harriet Andersson's boyfriend in U-Boat 39 (1952), also appeared with her in Anderssonskans Kalle (1950). His final role was in Susan Sontag's Duet for Cannibals (1969) before he passed away from liver cancer at the young age of 43.

As Peter Cowie notes in his book Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography, the film was produced on a very modest budget. Gunnar Fischer, Bergman's cinematographer at that time, only had access to a silent camera when they shot the outdoor scenes on the island of Ornö in the Stockholm archipelago. Thus all of the dialogue and sound effects for those sequences had to be dubbed in afterward. Later, when they shot the boat interior in the studio, one especially ingenious (and economical) touch was to have light shining through a bowl of water to create a dappled lighting effect as if the boat were resting on water. Bergman himself recalled in his memoir The Magic Lantern, "I was at once overcome with euphoric light-heartedness. Professional, financial and marital problems fell away over the horizon. The film crew lived a relatively comfortable outdoor life, working days, evenings, dawns and in all weathers. The nights were short, sleep dreamless. After three weeks' endeavor, we sent our results for developing but, owing to a defective machine, the laboratory managed to tear thousands of meters of film and nearly all of it had to be shot again." Even so, Gunnar Fischer commented, "It was our happiest film. Bergman was never secretive and talked eagerly to the crew about what he sought to achieve." One result was that Bergman and Harriet Andersson fell in love and began a relationship, although it did not last long. Over time, Bergman's marriage with his third wife, the journalist Gun Grut, fell apart though the two did not divorce until 1959.

Summer with Monika's was not the first Swedish film during that era to feature nudity--Arne Mattsson's One Summer of Happiness (1951) also stands out in that regard--but its appealing simplicity and frankness achieved great impact on international audiences. In particular, Summer with Monika became a model for French New Wave directors. François Truffaut made an overt homage to it in The 400 Blows (1959), when Antoine and his friend steal a lobby card featuring the famous publicity image of Harriet Andersson with her sweater pulled down around her shoulders. In a 1958 review of the film for its rerelease in France, Jean-Luc Godard write, "It is to the cinema today what Birth of a Nation is to the classical cinema." He added, "Summer with Monika is already [Roger Vadim's] And God Created Woman, but brought off brilliantly, without a single flaw, without a single hesitation, with total lucidity both in dramatic and moral construction and in its development, in other words, its mise-en-scène."

The distribution of Summer with Monika in the United States is a fascinating story in its own right, an example of how art films were often marketed as exploitation films in the postwar era. This occurred in part because of the rise of independent film distributors and exhibitors after the 1948 Paramount Decrees, which forced the major studios to divest of their movie theater holdings. In 1955, Kroger Babb dubbed the film in English, gave it a new score by Les Baxter, and recut it to emphasize its exploitative aspects, releasing it under the title Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl!. As the film historian Eric Schaefer notes in his video essay for the Criterion DVD, before this Babbs' company Hallmark Productions had released the "hygiene" film Mom and Dad (1944), which grossed between 40 and 100 million dollars during that time. Babbs supposedly had acquired the rights to Summer with Monika through a third party. However, Svensk Filmindustri and their representative Modern Film filed a cease-and-desist order, stating that they had sold the rights to Janus Films, who has distributed the film in the U.S. since. If perhaps the film's content no longer has the capacity to shock and titillate audiences in quite the same way that it did sixty years ago, its artistry still shines through.

Direction: Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman and Per Anders Fogelström, based on the novel by Fogelström
Photography: Gunnar Fischer
Production Design: Allan Ekelund, P. A. Lundgren, Nils Svenwall
Film Editors: Tage Holmberg, Gösta Lewin
Music: Erik Nordgren; waltz composed by Filip Olsson
Principal Cast: Harriet Anderson (Monika Eriksson); Lars Ekborg (Harry Lund); Dagmar Ebbesen (Mrs. Lindström); John Harryson (Lelle); Georg Skarstedt (Harry's father); Gösta Ericsson (Forsberg); Åke Fridell (Monika's father); Naemi Briese (Monika's mother); Åke Grönberg (Harry's construction boss); Gösta Gustafsson (Forsberg's accountant); Sigge Fürst (Johan).

by James Steffen

Bergman, Ingmar. Images: My Life in Film. Translated from the Swedish by Marianne Ruuth. New York: Arcade, 1994.
Bergman, Ingmar. The Magic Lantern. Translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate. New York: Viking, 1988.
Cowie, Peter. Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography. New York: Scribner, 1982.<> Shargel, Raphael, ed. Ingmar Bergman: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.