*title image by la porte rouge
In a whirlwind teenage romance, Harry and Monika escape the drab duties of their blue-collar jobs in Stockholm to live without rules on an isle of the archipelago. The two young lovers arrive on the island in Harry’s father’s boat, and the celebration that ensues is quite wonderful. If you’ve seen Wes Anderson’s latest creation (Moonrise Kindgdom) then you will certainly recognize a few moments of tribute to Summer With Monika. That’s where the similarities end, however, as our young Monika and Harry actually get to stay on their island for some time. Long enough, even, to start having the inevitable problems that happen when you decide to live on an island. (They run out of food, she gets pregnant, etc.) I don’t think it would be fair to reveal any more of the plot but let’s just say — as the title suggests — all seasons must come to an end.
The story is very engaging and the actors give superb performances. Harriett Andersson as Monika is particularly fascinating — we know, almost immediately, that she is untrustworthy. Bold, selfish, manipulative… and yet these same traits make us believe that she will survive — not only on the island but in society as well. In what I thought was the most poetic visual of the movie, Director Ingmar Bergman indulges in a lengthy shot of the headstrong, striving Monika wandering through the tall grasses of the island in search of food.
In the end the thing that struck me most about Summer With Monika is that movies like this were actually being made in 1953. This old Swedish film captures a certain intimacy, a real-life kind of sexuality between the characters that I’ve almost never seen in American movies, even today.
Without revealing too much about how things play out, I will say this: Part of me wants to judge Monika (who is, most definitely, a “bad girl”), but I’m also left admiring something about her… maybe her commitment to herself and instinct for survival. You’ll have to decide for yourself.