This early Bergman film, coming before the trifecta of Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Seventh Seal (1957), and Wild Strawberries (1957) established his reputation as a director, got its first exposure in the United States in 1955 when an enterprising distributor purchased the rights, cut it by a third, and released it as Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, with a publicity campaign centered on Harriet Andersson's nude scene. As the original poster at left suggests, the Swedish distributors were not above exploiting Andersson either, but Bergman's adaptation with Per Anders Fogelström of Fogelström's novel, is anything but a naughty sexcapade. It's a film about disaffected youth: Monika and Harry (Lars Ekborg) are in their late teens and trapped in boring jobs. Monika works at a produce store where she is sexually harassed by the male employees, and Harry, a packer and delivery boy in a store that deals in pottery and glassware, is constantly being scolded for being late and lazy. Harry wants to study to be an engineer, but he has to look after his father, who is an invalid. His mother died when he was 8, and he tells Monika that he has always felt alone. Monika is anything but alone: Her father is abusive and her mother barely tends to Monika's noisy young siblings. So when Harry's father goes into a hospital, Monika persuades Harry to run away with her. They steal his father's boat and sail away from Stockholm to the countryside, beautifully filmed by Gunnar Fischer. Their idyll is eventually cut short by their lack of money and Monika's pregnancy. The problem with the film is that a rather puritanical tone eventually seeps in, making Monika the focus of a moral condescension that Bergman would outgrow as his career progressed.
Promotional posters for the 1955 American release of Summer With Monika
The title of Claude Jutra's richly textured film seems to promise a coming-of-age story, which is what, eventually, it delivers. But first the film acquaints us with a Quebec asbestos mining town in the 1940s. The first event we witness is a fight between a miner, Jos Poulin (Lionel Villeneuve), and his boss (Georges Alexander), which is hardly a fight at all because the boss speaks English and Jos doesn't, which easily allows him to ignore what the boss is saying and do what he wants to do: quit the mine and go look for work elsewhere. Our first look at Antoine (Jean Duceppe) is when he's doing his work as the town's undertaker: a comically macabre scene in which the corpse is denuded of the "suit" he was wearing for the viewing, which turns out to be a false front quickly plucked off the naked body and saved for another corpse, and the rosary is untwined from his stiffening fingers. Antoine is the owner, with his wife, Cecile (Olivette Thibault), of the town's general store, which employs his teenage nephew, Benoit (Jacques Gagnon); a teen girl, Carmen (Lyne Champagne), who lives at the store because her skinflint father (Benoit Marcoux), who pockets her earnings, doesn't want to pay for her upkeep; and Fernand (Jutra), who clerks at the store. It's Christmas time, though there's not much sentiment in the film's treatment of the holiday. One of the best scenes in the movie comes when the mine boss rides through the town in a little two-wheeled cart, tossing cheap gifts to the children as the grownups frown at his stinginess and comment that he hasn't given out any raises or bonuses. Benoit and a friend throw snowballs at the horse, causing the boss to beat a hasty retreat. One of the most celebrated of Canadian films, Mon Oncle Antoine benefits from Jutra's adaptation with Clément Perron of Perron's story, and from Michel Brault's cinematography, but most of all from the great credibility of its cast.