Summer with Monika ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Can abrupt romances be made out of Stockholm's drab, proletarian climate? For Bergman's shrewder standards, he really simplifies the meet-cute in the opening few minutes: timid Harry (Lars Ekborg) struggles to light three cigarette matches for intrepid Monika (Harriet Andersson), leading to her proposition of "Let's run away. We'll see the whole wide world!", and him responding with "Sure, let's go!" It strains credulity for these two strangers, and considering this entire film is based on the tumultuous effect of their relationship, a fair bit of disbelief needs to be suspended. Talk about a quickfire connection.

Still, the parallels between Stockholm's blue-collar life, and the guileless desire to evade it for an idyllic archipelago, are beautifully done. If Harry slaves away at a glass factory, Monica's being harassed in the vegetable aisle, and naturally they'd want to leave. The location itself is stunningly filmed in monochrome, too; landscape vistas of wild foliage, sundecked rocks and crystalline lagoons, while the two leads make for an enriching duo who bask in it.

Between Andersson's carefree, adventurous traits to hold onto an eternal summer, with Ekborg's naïve mix of puppy-dog love and world-weary responsibility, is a teenage bond that grows into genuine gravitas. For once, Bergman doesn't shed his trademark existential diatribes, and simply allows them to caress each other in their most relaxed domain. (Even with the harsh reality kicks in, this still isn't a morality tale.) So they frolic in the ocean, and get drunk, which makes their impromptu trip a bit of a charmer.

I do wish this wasn't so lackadaisical, though, as there's establishing shots that outstay their welcome. (The boat trips around the island, and specifically venturing back home, have a succession of 5-6 exterior shots. It feels like padding.) Nor does Bergman have the aptitude to film a fight scene: varmint Lelle (John Harryson) is insipid enough to burn the boat as these star-crossed lovers are nearby, coupled by noticeably awkward wrestling as Harry and Lelle roll on the ground. At least it's subsequently saved by the realistic implications of the summer; and turns rather survivalist, during the roast-thieving scene. That managed to enamor me.

Ultimately, its residing power comes down to the final-third. And that's none other than the challenges of adulthood. The summer idyll was not a sustainable life for Harry and Monika, and with childbirth on its way, all sorts of external tensions arise. (The suggestion that Harry studies to support his family in the long run, as Monika berates him for ignoring her, is an astute observation on Bergman's behalf.) A poignant treatise on feckless young love, and how it crashes down by the sobering truth of growing up. If this wasn't so languid and lapidary, though, I'd be a bit more positive on it.