By Astrid Surbled
At Fotografisk Center you can currently experience the exhibition Everything Represents — Nothing Is which focuses on relations between Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) and visual art. The exhibition features a selection of Ingmar Bergman’s films alongside artworks by contemporary visual artists who have been inspired by or have worked with Bergman’s practice.
Ingmar Bergman is a film director who made his mark on the history of cinema by his audacity and his modern work. In his films we can especially highlight his close-ups on characters faces and his camera looks which was uncommon at his time. He associates also on the screen reality and imaginary, present and past. He examined human beings, couples, families, faith, artistic production, anxiety and much more. It is an intimate cinema and of introspection. Bergman’s work is one of the most influential in cinema.
Among the films selected for the current exhibition you can discern some excerpts from Berman’s film Summer with Monika, 1953, and in this blog post I will analyse parts of the film. It is relevant to mention here that Summer with Monika deals with themes like the couple, life, freedom, society and social class relations.
Maria Finn: Summer after Monika
Maria Finn (born 1963 in Sweden, living in Copenhagen) is a contemporary artist inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s work. Her video Summer after Monika, 2007, is part of the exhibition at Fotografisk Center, and it is related to Summer with Monika. You recognize some pictures, draws or excerpts, that make think of Bergman’s film: the beach, the bridge, the cigarette. You also hear snippets of Per Anders Fogelströms’s novel Summer with Monika, 1951, on which Bergman’s film i based. Maria Finn studies gender stereotypes, and how reality catches up with dreams of freedom. And she studies how different places (the city and the archipelago) are used to show the main characters’s position in society.
Ingmar Bergman: Summer with Monika
Harry, a stock clerk, and Monika, a saleswoman, are two young people from a working-class district of Stockholm in 1952. One day they meet in a bar and share their dreams of escape and freedom. They decide to escape together to an island where they have a life of love that they think will last forever. But by the end of summer they lack money, and the return to ordinary life is sorrowful.
In 1953 the film marked a turning point in the history of cinema, and it became a model for the French New Wave film directors. Bergman uses a film language full of narrative freedom. The film is notable by the well-known Monika’s camera look at the end, among other things. The french film director Jean-Luc Godard has been deeply affected by this shot. The role as Monika is played by Harriet Andersson and the film shows her emerging talent. She was the first of Bergman’s favourite actresses and played in his major films.
Analysis of the end of summer
I propose to you a small analysis of the end of the film, from when the summer ends which is a vibrant key moment. From timecode 1:07:55 – 1:23:05, the issue of the excerpt of the film is to show how the return to civilisation and everyday life affect the two lovers.
When they leave the island, the sky is grey and overcast, and the sea is rough. We can note that the natural elements match with the main characters’ destiny, their struggle to readapt into society, and with their emotions.
When Harry and Monika return to Stockholm is another important moment. The aim is to make us experience a specific feeling linked with the place and its world. So when they are returning to the capital, we see various dark shots with a cloudy sky, and it gives the city a threatening aspect. Between these shots we have some fade outs. It is a spatial journey between two places (the island and the city) and between two environments (the nature and the civilisation). It is also an abstract journey by the living space shrinkage. This journey is a metaphor which condenses the main characters’ existential condition.
Harry and Monika have to leave the island in late summer because they lack money and because Monika is pregnant. So, arrived in town, Harry and Monika supported by Harry’s aunt claim to the pastor a marriage licence. He stays off-camera like other characters in the film who each represent an institution. The pastor represents the voice of the Church, and Bergman doesn’t care about the man himself. The destiny of the main characters is to be reintegrated into society. We can note another institution which keeps Harry supervised in society: the company with the boss who is off-camera for a while (like the pastor before). So during Monika’s delivery Harry can’t be with her to support her. When he gets a phone call to become aware of the gender of the child, he is accompanied by one of the social structure agents, here the boss. The film shows the relations between social classes.
The last character who is almost always off-camera is Harry and Monika’s baby. Bergman wants to show us the baby as a role within the institution of the family. Bergman doesn’t show a happy and optimistic vision of parenting. Furthermore, Harry looks sad when watching his child. We can note the frames in the shots when Harry is meeting and watching his baby. The effect is to extend on the screen the idea of a supervised life. We can highlight the fact that Harry, and not Monika, takes care of the baby when she cries during night. It shows a modern vision of the genders in a patriarchal system, but the purpose is more to show us that Monika doesn’t have any affections for her baby.
The camera follows Harry during the night while moving back and forth between his own bed, the baby’s bed and his desk. Thanks to the camera movements we know that it is a regular routine, a repeated action. When Harry tries to work, we can hear the noisy neighborhood, and we can guess that the couple live in a poor area of the city. Bergman gives us various clues to show that the tragedy of Harry and Monika is also a tragedy of poverty.
We will conclude with the most famous shot of the film where Monika is looking directly into the camera, hence also directly at the viewers. It is famous because of Monika’s disturbing look, and because this conflicts with an absolute rule of fiction cinema. Actors should not look into the camera because it reveals the film shoot whereas the viewers need to believe the fact of the story recounted. Bergman breaks the illusion and draws the viewers into an intimate face to face. In the shot Monika says nothing, and she has an enigmatic face. Bergman wants us to be interrogative in front of her face and gives us freedom of interpretation. We don’t know if Monika is taunting us and assumes what she is doing, or if she is asking for help. In that case, like French film director Jean-Luc Godard have said, “it is the saddest gaze of the history of cinema.”
You can read more about Ingmar Bergman and his films here.
And you can read more about Maria Finn and her work here.
Intern at Fotografisk Center and MA student on Projects and Cultural Institutions Management, Normandy, France.
Installation photos: Troels Jeppe
Coverphoto: Maria Finn, Summer after Monika, 2007, video, 05:32 min.