Bergman Week doesn’t even begin on the Swedish island of Fårö until June 25, but it’s already begun to feel like a very Bergman summer. The site for the Ingmar Bergman Archives, once known as Ingmar Bergman: Face to Face, has relaunched as simply ingmarbergman.se. The head of the Archives, Jan Holmberg, ushers in the changes via an interview with himself, announcing, “now we are more modern, more fun, more attractive, much larger and… well, overall much better than before.” For example, “Bergman the author is underestimated, but this will soon be a notion of the past.” Further in: “As we all know, Bergman is the master of the self-interview, having published his first in 1946 and his last in 1994.”
Criterion Corner (one of several sites dedicated to the Criterion Collection that isn’t actually affiliated with Criterion) runs excerpts from one of those self-interviews, this one conducted at around the time Summer with Monika was released in 1953. His answer to the question, “Any beautiful moment from the shooting of the film?,” confirms Holmberg’s assertion that Bergman the writer is under-appreciated.
The excerpt comes from the booklet included in Criterion’s new release of Monika on DVD and Blu-ray, just out now along with Summer Interlude (1951). Launching another rich conversation at his site, Dave Kehr writes: “Monika, at least in its marvelous middle passages, remains the most fresh and open of Bergman’s films, a northern European analogue to the work Rossellini was creating in Italy at much the same time. As such, it had a tremendous influence on the budding filmmakers of the New Wave, and in particular on Godard, who quotes Monika‘s most striking moment—Harriet Andersson’s long, hard look at the camera, in which she seems to defy the audience to judge her—with Jean Seberg’s cold stare at the end of Breathless. My New York Times review is here.”
Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant on that stare: “Her expression is both fiery and taunting; pleased with itself, but not with its audience. She seems to hate us recklessly, as a girl might an adult who doesn’t know what to make of her.” The scene “is probably the film’s most discussed, aside from the one in which Monika—played by the lithe Harriet Andersson—sunbathes nude, and these form a neat little binary in the discourse, a nearly feminist one. After her undressing, she’s given the opportunity to turn us into observatory objects.”
In an essay for Criterion, Laura Hubner argues that Monika is “a key film in Bergman’s career, solidifying his move toward an increased focus on women’s perspectives—the attention given to Monika’s dreams provides a fresh challenge to the themes of escape and compromise he’d been developing in his work…. Bergman always said that making Summer with Monika went like a dream, adding, ‘It’s close to my heart and one of my films I’m always happy to see again.'”
Peter Cowie, also writing for Criterion: “Summer in the Nordic countries is a magical season, running to around eight weeks at most. During June and July, with the sun high in the sky, Swedish city dwellers flee to their cottages in the countryside and in the archipelago, escaping not just from the daily grind but also from a spiritual malaise that the long, dark winter can generate. There they seize the chance to relish the natural world and, perhaps, shed their cold-weather inhibitions. Some of Ingmar Bergman’s richest films are set primarily in this so fleeting of seasons: Summer with Monika (1953), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Wild Strawberries (1957), and—most poignant of all—Summer Interlude (1951).” This one “marked a watershed in Bergman’s life and career. It was made with a new confidence and optimism—demonstrating a quantum leap forward in his command of the language of cinema—as though the new decade were beckoning him toward greater things.”
More on both films from Sean Axmaker and Bill Ryan; and, at DVD Beaver, Gary W. Tooze is “immensely impressed with Artificial Eye’s Blu-ray package,” Classic Bergman: 5 Films by the Master of Cinema. And those films are: It Rains on Our Love (1946), A Ship Bound for India (1947), Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Dreams (1955), and So Close to Life (1958). At Cine-Vue, Joe Walsh gives the package four out of five stars.
Updates, 6/1: José Teodoro for Moving Image Source: “Monika in particular reveals Bergman as a fully formed auteur in possession of a singular approach, one grounded in theatre and geared toward intimacy and austerity, in the service of tough, compassionate stories of youth’s evanescence. These films also inaugurated Bergman’s role as Sweden’s cinematic ambassador, however problematic this assignation would become.”
Jordan Cronk for Slant: “The darkly intimate character studies of Bergman’s formative years, among them Thirst and To Joy, yielded, as the decade turned, to a preoccupation with nostalgia and the transience of love as a kind of synchronized waltz with the changing of the seasons. The characters in Summer Interlude perfectly embodied this period of artistic growth through a naïve romanticism—eventually manifesting itself as an acute sense of maturation—a facing-up to life’s unexpected turns of event and, as a result, cultivating a determinism within both Bergman and his protagonists, which each would carry through an unforeseen future.”
Reviewing the discs for Movies.com, David Ehrlich highlights one of the extras: “Lovingly introduced by Martin Scorsese, Images from the Playground is an affecting 28-minute collection of Bergman’s home videos, shot by the man himself on a 9.5mm Bell & Howell camera that he purchased from a little camera shop in Stockholm. He’d compulsively record the day-to-day life of his film sets as a sort of moving journal, and the archival Bergman interviews that have been layered over the footage articulates how Bergman regarded all the equipment as his favorite toys, referring to himself as an eternal grown-up trapped in a long man’s body. It’s exquisitely personal and romantic stuff, as even Bergman’s home videos feel like an extension of his cinema, essential viewing for hardcore fans.”
Criterion presents a clip in which “Eric Schaefer, author of ‘Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!’: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919–1959, fills us in on how Monika ended up on the exploitation circuit.”