DVD Review: Summer With Monika

Summer With Monika DVD boxSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Ingmar Bergman | STARS: Harriet Andersson, Lars Ekborg, Dagmar Ebbesen, Ake Fridell, Naemi Briese
RELEASE DATE: 5/29/12 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: Introduction to the film by Bergman, interview with Harriet Andersson, featurettes “Monika Exploited!” and “Images from a Playground”
SPECS: R | 97 min. | Foreign-language drama | 1:33 aspect ratio | Swedish with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Summer With MonikaAlthough Ingmar Bergman’s Summer With Monika is not as well known to the average arthouse dabbler as such Bergman classics as The Seventh Seal or Cries and Whispers, the 1953 film is considered an important turning point in his work and remains a personal favorite of many of his diehard fans and film-critic disciples.

Thus it is a delight to see the film given the full Criterion treatment, after having been unavailable since the days of VHS — a situation that still holds for another dozen or so important Bergman films, from the early melodramas to the final, essential TV movies. Released in tandem with Monika is another previously “lost” film, Summer Interlude (1951) on DVD and Blu-ray, a similar tale of a doomed relationship that provokes a loss of innocence in the lead character.

Interlude is an absorbing film, but Monika has all the earmarks of a classic. Bergman spends a third of the movie sketching the working-class milieu his characters inhabit, and then we watch as they — a naïve young man (Lars Ekborg) and a sensual, impulsive young woman (Harriet Andersson) — take off for a summer idyll in the Stockholm archipelago.

The film is superb, but Andersson’s performance is the linchpin. At the time of production, Bergman was falling in love with her, and that fact is apparent throughout, as the camera lingers on her body and face. In one of the movie’s most memorable moments, Andersson looks straight at the camera, creating a direct connection with the viewer that was much admired by the filmmakers of the French New Wave (and wound up becoming one of the centerpieces of Godard’s visual style).

The extras on this DVD are uniformly fascinating, including a 2012 interview with Andersson by Bergman expert Peter Cowie that finds her being exceptionally candid, right down to describing her first kiss with Bergman. Her no-holds-barred summation of what the master-filmmaker did for her: “I had been before a little tits and ass, but Ingmar gave me the perfect parts….”

In another featurette, film historian Eric Schaefer outlines how the film was edited in the U.S. into a salacious movie called Monika, Story of a Bad Girl by legendary exploitation producer Kroger Babb.

The DVD’s most important bonus, however, is “Images from the Playground,” Stig Björkman’s half-hour compilation (introduced by some guy named Scorsese) of home movies that Bergman shot on the sets of his films and on vacation from 1953 to 1965.

It’s quite jarring to see his actors joking around (and at one point openly flirting on-camera) on the sets of such downbeat masterpieces as Wild Strawberries and Through a Glass Darkly. Harriet and Bibi Andersson (who separately narrate Bjorkman’s film) emphasize that, despite the subject matter, Bergman’s sets were always jolly, and Ingmar and his longtime male leads Erland Josephson and Gunnar Björnstrand “loved to tell dirty jokes.”

The Blu-ray version has the same features, with the addition of the movie in high-definition.

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”