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Summer with Monika: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

I told you we’d be back with some more Ingmar Bergman madness, didn’t I? Well, up next we’ve got Summer with Monika, Bergman’s film about the joys and innocence of romance. Wait, I did say this was a Bergman film, right? Okay, throw in some drama and despair, and you’ve got yourself a Bergman stew. If Summer with Monika sounds familiar that’s probably due to his recent film that was shot a couple of years prior to this one. That one was called Summer Interlude, and you can read our review HERE. How will Summer with Monika stack up to that previous film? Keep reading after the jump to find out. Here’s hoping that Criterion keeps the Ingmar Bergman train going. We need more Bergman on Blu-ray!

Film

Monika (Harriet Andersson) and Harry (Lars Ekborg) are two young working class people stuck in dead jobs in the heart of the Stockholm trade industry, when they meet and fall in love with each other. Harry likes to keep a low profile, while Monika is all piss and vinegar. She’s a free and adventurous spirit who can’t sit still. When Monika gets into trouble, she and Harry ditch the city (by stealing a boat from Harry’s father) and they venture out to the archipelagos of Stockholm. There, they live off of the land and each other. Yes, it’s that kind of party.

This is an entire summer, so hanging out with Harry and Monika seems like an eternity, because the majority of the film takes place on these little islands. They muse about their hopes and dreams and carry on like the crazy lovebirds they seem to be.

Well, the “cabin fever” sets in and the food starts to run out, and Harry and Monika start to resent each other and go at each other slinging verbal jabs at one another. Harry contemplates leaving the island and heading back to the real world, but Monika will have none of that. She also has a secret that Harry is directly responsible for, so Harry, being the man, must provide in other ways. While he figures what to do in that regard, Monika trespasses on private property and is quickly taken in by the wealthy family who own the farm and property. She hustles them and shakes the spot along with a giant roast that will feed them for a while. This also leads to more verbal assaults against Harry for being such a wuss, in her eyes.

I’m all for strong and independent females, but not on the backs of socially inept men. Harry is obviously a nice guy and Monika, when provoked, turns into a mean and spiteful bitch who plays mind games with Harry. She talks all sorts of crap about him to his face, but then turns it off on a moment’s notice. She’s very manipulative and selfish, but Harry doesn’t know any better. Monika is his first love, so he sits there and takes the abuse when he should be running for the hills.

The one theme that is not present in this Bergman film would be death. No one dies in Summer with Monika, but there’s plenty of despair to go around and the ending is pretty damn sad. It’s a terrific film, but keep in mind it’s not one of these feel-good-films at all.

I’m glad I watched Summer with Monika right after I watched Summer Interlude, because it kept me in that right frame of mind for Bergman’s work. Both films aren’t that long to begin with and are easily digestible. Criterion is doing a bang-up job with Bergman’s catalog, so here’s hoping that we get even more of his work on a more semi-regular basis.

Video  

Summer with Monika is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. On widescreen televisions, black bars will appear on the left and right of the image to maintain the proper screen format. For the Blu-ray edition, the picture has been slightly windowboxed to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors. Thia new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35 mm camera negative. Restoration and color grading were done using the following: Image Systems’ Phoenix and Nucoda FilmMaster, Quantel’s iQ, Foundry’s NUKE, and Autodesk’s Flame. Further restoration involved the manual removal of thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt , grain, and noise reduction.

Now with that out of the way, Summer with Monika looks phenomenal on Blu-ray! It may be in black and white, but the film looks like a black and white painting come to life. Black levels look great, never crush, and stay deep and inky all the way through. Contrast levels are equally balanced and never look boosted. I also didn’t detect “strobing” or edge enhancement. Grain levels stayed consistent, as well. Criterion went all out on the video presentation for Summer with Monika. It’s a reference video presentation if I do say so myself…and I do.

Audio

The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Yes, we have another monaural soundtrack, but this open doesn’t disappoint. Dialogue is crystal clear, depth is sustained, and ambiance levels are detectable. Yeah, even in a monaural soundtrack. This is a lossless mono-track, so there is high fidelity contained in this LPCM 1.0 track. It does sound better than Summer Interlude, as well.

Extras 

Summer with Monika has several extras, including a really cool booklet that features some neat interviews with scholars and directors. The documentaries and featurettes presented show the director at work, and one of the documentaries is actually presented by Martin Scorsese. My favorite of the featurettes would have to be the one that talks about Summer with Monika being an exploitation film after it was chopped to hell for an American release. Lots of good stuff on this Blu-ray, indeed.

  • Introduction by Ingmar Bergman
  • New interview with actress Harriet Andersson, conducted by film scholar Peter Cowie
  • New interview with film scholar Eric Schaefer about Kroger Babb and his distribution of Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl! as an exploitation film
  • Images of from the Playground, a half-hour documentary by Stig Bjorkman featuring behind-the-scenes footage shot by Bergman, archival audio interviews with Bergman, and new interviews with actresses Bibi Andersson and Harriet Andersson
  • Trailer
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Laura Hubner, a 1958 review by filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, and a publicity piece from 1953 in which Bergman interviews himself

Summary

Summer with Monika is a wild journey into a world where two young people leave it all behind, live on impulse, but have no regards with the consequences of their actions until it’s too late. The irony being that those that realize what has happened will already be too late to stop the incoming disaster, while the other can just adapt to the next scenario and move on. The technical specification are very impressive – and I LOVED the video presentation. The extras are very satisfactory, as well. I recommend Summer with Monika to all the people who have not yet experienced Bergman for themselves. It’s an easily accessible film, with a very universal story that I think most can relate to.

 

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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