Summer holds a fascination with Swedes for three reasons: they have a short season up north, it stays lighter longer, and there is land to stretch and express freedom and uninhibitedness. For the young couple in Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 film “Sommaren Med Monika (Summer With Monika),” the summer also represents an abrupt and emotional leap into the world of adulthood. Monika (Harriet Andersson) and Harry (Lars Ekborg) meet, fall in love, and storm off into the void hoping to leave their problems behind. They live an idyllic life on their boat in the wilds, but as summer fades into autumn, the difficulties of feeding themselves and staying warm threaten to tear apart these charming soul mates.
At the beginning of the movie, Bergman establishes the docks and waterways of Stockholm. The beautiful and impetuous teenager Monika Eriksson works at a grocery store. She enters a cafe for a cup of coffee and meets Harry Lund, another teenager who works at a glass and pottery warehouse. They instantly bond, and Monika aggressively pursues him. They make a date to go to the movies, where they see a romantic American melodrama that fuels Monika’s dreams of a better life. Back home, Monika’s siblings treat her rudely, and she’s often pinched by her male co-workers at the grocery store. Harry’s life is far more lonely; he lives with his ill father and he’s sluggish and unfocused at work. His boss yells at him constantly, and he chafes against an urge to strike back by breaking the store’s glassware.
After her father threatens to strike her, Monika storms off and convinces Harry to take off on a boat trip. They sail off and spend the summer in an idealized romance that includes nude adventures, love making and meaningful companionship. Harry and especially Monika, who fully embraces her new freedom, shrug off their cares rather easily and live in the warmth of the sun and wide open spaces. Director Bergmann remains with the couple throughout their idyll, as though time and the grit of the real life of Stockholm cease to exist. But Monika gets pregnant, and the couple realize they cannot continue to live on wild mushrooms.
Because of Harriet Andersson’s remarkable performance as Monika, the film blesses us with a unique portrait of confident youth forging headlong into mistakes. She’s a charismatic actress with a flair for movement and flirtation; we really believe a character like her would be willing to accept new challenges without regret. Besides the central story of the couple’s summer in the wilderness, Bergmann also makes points about the differences between the city and the country. A returning businessman on the train says Stockholm is like a beautiful lady, as if to imply that knowing the city well can be more lovely and fulfilling then the uncertainty of the countryside.