Bergman’s Bad Girl


Already the subject of considerable ink, Swedish master Ingmar Bergman’s posthumous reputation—or “overrated career,” as Jonathan Rosenbaum put it in a New York Times op-ed obit—should get a boost from a two-week run of his 1953 Monika.

When revived in Paris, then-critic Jean-Luc Godard hailed Monika in a frenzy of enthusiasm as “the cinematographic event” of 1958: “Ignored when it was first shown on the boulevards, [Monika] is the most original film of the most original of directors. It is to cinema today what Birth of a Nation is to classical cinema.” In the U.S., the movie—with its 20-year-old star Harriet Andersson swimming in the nude—inspired another sort of excitement. Veteran exploitation distributor Kroger Babb cut the film to 62 minutes, dubbed the dialogue, added a Les Baxter score, and released it as Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl. Woody Allen claims to have camped out on the sidewalk the night before its Flatbush opening.

Uneven and sometimes clumsy, Monika doesn’t nearly justify Godard’s claims, but it’s easy to see what impressed him. Bergman’s tale of heedless teenage love is a sort of neorealist Rebel Without a Cause—except that sex is acknowledged and the outlaw is a girl. In her rejection of all domestic responsibility, motherhood included, Monika‘s uninhibited, impulsive, working-class protagonist is a natural foe of bourgeois morality. Andersson, who’d been a teenage ecdysiast before Bergman “discovered” her, would subsequently act in eight of his films, most notably as the God-haunted schizophrenic in Through a Glass Darkly. She was more recently a resident of Dogville. It’s her Monika, however, who haunts Breathless—evoked in the famous close-up where Jean Seberg looks deep into the camera and coolly stares us down. November 14 through 27, IFC Center.


Rosenbaum’s piece noted that Bergman’s films are now rarely shown—but not this week. Monika aside, the MOMA is screening the once-canonical The Seventh Seal (1957) twice, while BAM has booked two of Bergman’s strongest films, Persona (1966), introduced by actress Bibi Andersson, and Shame (1968), plus his almost–swan song Fanny and Alexander (1982). The Seventh Seal, November 15 and 16, MOMA. Tribute to Ingmar Bergman, November 20 and 21, BAM.