The Criterion Collection has released outstanding Blu-ray editions of two relatively early Ingmar Bergman films, Summer Interlude and Summer with Monika. It’s appropriate for their releases to coincide with one another, as there is more than a passing thematic similarity between the two films.
Summer with Monika tells the simple story of a young man and
woman, both in their late teens, who run away from dead-end jobs to share a
picture perfect summer together. Originally released in 1953, the film is
concerned with the fleeting quality of youthful idealism. This particular pair,
Monika (Harriet Andersson) and Harry (Lars Ekborg), seems rather ill-matched. Monika
is a free spirit, given to meaningless physical relationships with co-workers.
Harry, on the other hand, is an earnest do-gooder who suffers silently while
cranky managers make his working life unpleasant.
It’s not hard to see what attracts Harry to Monika. She’s attractive, to be sure, but beyond that she has a certain indefinable allure. But we, the audience, see more sides to Monika than Harry does. Flirtatiousness is one thing, but Monika has engaged in affairs of which Harry has no knowledge. Desperate to get away from packing glassware in a warehouse, Harry takes off with his new love without first getting to know her. Frolicking in the fleeting sun that beats down on the Stockholm archipelago, Harry can’t see the writing on the wall. They are too inexperienced and immature to handle a truly adult relationship, especially when Monika reveals she is pregnant.
Andersson mixes in just the right amount of vulnerability with Monika’s seductive personality. Maybe she isn’t exactly abused at home, but based on what we see of her drunken father she doesn’t have an ideal home life. Though she laughingly recalls her father as being fun for at least some of the time, Andersson makes us understand that she wasn’t happy at home overall. Ekborg is actually more sympathetic, however, as a rather average young man trying to do the right thing. There’s a certain blank-slate dullness inherent in Harry’s persona, and Ekborg portrays that while still getting the audience to feel sorry for him when his relationship inevitably takes a turn for the worse.
Two years prior to Summer with Monika, Bergman explored somewhat similar thematic territory with Summer Interlude. On the most superficial level, both films involve the sometimes deceptively sunny time of year when people—particularly young people—seek to escape humdrum reality. But on a deeper level, both films examine loss. Just as Harry begins to lose control of his relationship with Monika, Interlude’s Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) endures the end of her summer romance with Henrik (Birger Malmsten). The earlier film is, however, structured very differently. As opposed to Monika’s linear narrative, Interlude switches between Marie the carefree teenager and Marie the adult professional ballet dancer.
Nilsson is a marvel to watch as she shows us the difference between Marie’s joyful youth and her depressed adulthood. In the flashbacks, she’s exuberant as she spends her summer with Henrik and his dog Gruffman. As an adult, having been presented with Henrik’s old diary which includes an account of their time together, she seems to be dead inside. Temporarily leaving a Swan Lake rehearsal that was fraught with technical difficulties, we see her past as she returns to the sites of her time with Henrik. Things did not end well for the couple, and through these flashbacks that dominate the middle act of the film we are allowed to understand why. As with the later Summer with Monika, the far more complex and interesting half of the couple is the female. Malmsten is fine, but his stalwart Henrik is primarily a supporting character.
As for the high definition presentation, these Blu-rays live up to Criterion’s high standards. Both black and white films are in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Visually, they have been meticulously restored. Summer with Monika boasts the more consistently better image. According to the notes in the Blu-ray booklet, the transfer was made from the original 35mm negative. The picture is sharp, be it during wide shots or close-ups. A natural amount of film grain makes it obvious that Criterion’s use of noise reduction was very judicious.
Summer Interlude proves a bit more problematic, image-wise. As detailed in the booklet, the original negative is gone forever. In its place, Criterion used two different sources. The majority of the transfer comes from a 35mm duplicate negative that was accessed from the Swedish Film Institute. But portions of this were badly damaged by mold, so when a second duplicate negative was located in the Janus Films vault, several minutes of the original dupe were replaced by footage from this second source. While there are still a few scenes that include noticeable visual flaws, Criterion’s efforts are extremely commendable.
Both films are presented with their original mono mixes. Monika’s audio was transferred from the original 35mm magnetic soundtrack. For Interlude, a 35mm optical soundtrack print was utilized. The simple, dialogue-driven sound design is well represented in both cases. No distortion or other problems exist to interfere with the actors’ speech, which is all Swedish (with English subtitles). Music and effects are similarly clean in their reproduction.
While no supplemental features accompany Summer Interlude, several interesting features have been included with Summer with Monika. There is a brief introduction by the late Ingmar Bergman, videotaped on a few years prior to the director’s 2007 passing. A new interview with star Harriet Andersson covers all aspects of her work on the film. Film historian Eric Schaefer discusses the significantly altered U.S. release of Monika, as re-edited and dubbed by exploitation producer Kroger Babb (if only Criterion could’ve included this bastardized version as well). “Images from the Playground” is an intriguing half-hour documentary that features behind-the-scenes footage shot by Bergman.
Both Summer with Monika and Summer Interlude have been treated very well by The Criterion Collection. These excellent Blu-rays (both are available on standard DVD as well) are highly recommended.