Friday, 20 February 2009

Bergman's Summer with Monika

My knowledge of Sweden as a country comprised a two week college trip in between a Diploma in Public and Social Administration and Professional Training in Child Care. The journey was made by train through Germany and Denmark and after a few days in the capital we stayed at a Folkhighschool on the east coast near Forsa. There was also a memorable day at the University of Uppsala. My memory is of an endless countryside of forest and lakes, of a small town where the young people drove around in cars, picking each other up to party in the hills, and of news about President Kennedy, I think "I am a Berliner" rather than the day of his assignation. Until the trip my knowledge of the Scandinavian soul was based on the plays of Ibsen and music of Grieg(Norway), and the music of Sibelius (Finland). Abba was yet to come. and of one film Summer with Monika.

The attraction of the film, seen soon after I left school in 1955, was the promised sight of an unclothed girl going for a swim, which planted the idea of abandoning a boring office job and going off, pre hippy style, living rough, for love and sex. At the time I understood aspects of the reality of the tragedy which the film unfolds, but the lingering image was of the original summer of love.

I have seen a few Bergman films during the fifty years it has taken to grasp the significance of a film maker who has said all there is to say of value about the human condition and human relationships. It was logical to commence with Summer with Monika.

The story has been covered in many different ways before, and since. A nice young man of a good home, (although the boy has lost his mother at 8 and has a well intentioned protective aunt, and a father providing a good home and small boat, but sick and sad, but appears a good father), is picked up by an attractive young girl from a poor working class background with ineffectual mother, worn out by the struggle of a large family and drunken bulling and at times violent father.

The girl lives in a dream world of the cinema, wanting romance, a wealthy husband, so she does not have to work and can spend her time having fun and buying clothes. She is experienced and has a reputation to an extent that she known to the employers of the young man, and her brothers, as Mucky Monika! We learn that she has had an affair with one of the older men at work and an aggressive younger man from her environment. This young man encounters the couple during their summer among the southern islands and tries to destroy their boat but it is not his intervention which defeats the couple. They return to everyday reality after she becomes pregnant stealing food after she becomes pregnant, marries and live in a small flat where he works by day and studies nor a better life by night. They return, are married live in a small flat. We all know what to expect next and it does. He is left to bring up the child, and remember his taste of honey. There is great emphasis on the cinematography, which communicates the emotions experienced. This is not a great Bergman film but it remains an important part of my past experience and it introduced to the greatest film maker to-date.

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