Before his worldwide success with 'Smiles of a Summer Night' (1955), Ingmar Bergman spent about 10 years in the Swedish film industry working first as a screenwriter, adapting works and writing his own scripts, and then as a director. Using Per Anders Fogelström's novel Sommaren med Monika as its source, 'Summer with Monika' was his 12th feature as a writer/director. In contrast to his films of great thematic depth where he dealt with existential issues regarding God and death ('The Seventh Seal') and reason versus faith ('The Magician'), 'Summer with Monika' is a simple, straightforward story about young love.
As the film opens, 19-year-old Harry (Lars Ekborg) and Monika (Harriet Andersson), who is 18 or just under (oh, those Europeans), meet by chance in a Stockholm café when Monika comes over to say 'hello' and suggests Harry take her out. They soon begin dating regularly, to the dismay of Lelle (John Harryson), a suitor of Monika's, and quickly cling to each other because of the joy they bring each other in their otherwise unsatisfying lives. Harry is disinterested in his work as a stockboy at a Forsberg's glass and plateware shop. Harry's mother died when he was eight and he has lived a quiet life with his father (Georg Skarstedt) who never remarried. Monika lives in a small apartment with her family. Her father (Åke Fridell) is an alcoholic who will smack her when she talks back.
What starts out as an afternoon trip on Harry's father's boat turns into an idyllic summer vacation. They find themselves in their own Eden for a time as Andersson's brief nude scene (seen mostly from behind) suggests, soaking up the sun and enjoying the water. However, the fantasy of their love affair soon gives way as reality quickly sets in. They run out of food, which becomes a greater concern for Henry after he learns Monika is late.
Returning to Stockholm, they have to come to terms with living the domesticated life they ran away from, which is difficult considering they are just barely out of childhood themselves. They each have options, ones that are available to every member of a couple. They can either work to live happily ever after together or somebody can take the easy, selfish way out and search for happiness elsewhere, not caring about the consequences of walking away.
Bergman and the two lead actors create believable, engaging characters. This is my favorite type of love story, one that offers a very identifiable story where the motivation behind the character's choices is understandable. Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer does very good work, making very good use of light and shadow in both exteriors and interiors.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Summer with Monika' (#614 in The Criterion Collection) is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a 28-page booklet containing "Summer Dreaming," an essay by author Laura Hubner; "Fugitive Moments: Jean-Luc Godard on 'Summer With Monika," a review from by the French filmmaker; and a Bergman conducting a self-interview before the film opened.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.37:1. The liner notes reveal "this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative. Restoration and color grading were done using the following: Image Systems' Phoenix and Nucoda FilmMaster, Quantel's iQ, Foundry's NUKE, and Autodesk's Flame. Further restoration involved the manual removal of thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' DNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
The source was clean and the picture looked consistent, though some minor print damage and flicker could be seen in one brief scene when Monika is caught trying to steal food at the 61-minute mark. Film grain is evident, and the brighter the scene, the busier it becomes, possibly serving as a distraction to some. Focus is sharp though some background objects can be soft, likely a source issue.
The blacks are deep and rich and whites come across solid, contributing to a well-rendered spectrum of grays. The image offers great details. Textures can be seen on canal walls, ripples in water, the plywood of a boat interior, and clothing. No major digital artifacts were seen.
The audio is available in Swedish LPCM 1.0 and "was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation."
The dialogue sounded clean, but the music had a noticeable slight warp due to age and wear. The dynamic range was small as demonstrated by the effects, which have a limited low end in both effects, noticed in the thunder and the boat engine, and music, bat engine.
Even though it's not as substantial as some of Bergman's masterworks, and to be fair few films are, 'Summer with Monika' offers an enjoyable oasis amidst a vast sea of mediocrity. Criterion's high-definition presentation offers a great picture, informative features, and does the best it likely can with the limitations of the source audio.
For those who like love stories filled with realism and practicality, this is the film for you.