Ingmar Bergman arrives. In Stockholm, teens Harry and Monika work dead-end jobs. A chance meeting leads to a date. Romance blossoms between dreamer Harry and free-spirit Monika. But a fight with her drunken father forces Monika to flee her home. Soon, Harry and Monika decide to quit their jobs and run away together in Harry’s father’s boat. They find paradise in the Stockholm archipelago but said paradise proves short-lived.
So much to appreciate. The bookend scenes of the pair leaving and returning. Clear skies and calm water on the departure, overcast and choppy on the return. The casting. How Harriet Andersson and Lars Ekborg resemble an actual couple, not movie stars. The wordless horror that descends on their paradise. Her gradual devolution into a feral child. The gut-punch zoom on Andersson’s face as she looks into the camera.
My lone complaints? After meeting Monika, Harry sits daydreaming on his bicycle at a railroad crossing, only jolted from his thoughts by repeated honks from the car behind him. A cliched scene that feels forced. Also later, when Harry returns home early, we only see his reaction. I understand why Bergman chose this approach. It saves the knockout blow for Monika’s later close-up, but Ekborg fails to convey the requisite emotion, blunting the scene’s impact.
Neither blemish proves a deal-breaker, as Summer with Monika pairs Bergman’s formal expertise and ability to coax natural performances from his cast with an evergreen, resonant story, resulting in Bergman’s first near-great film.