The feeling of sheer pleasure when the film began to screen cannot be overstated. Not just because I was about to watch another of Bergman’s films for the first time, although that was part of it, but also because I was sitting in the new auditorium, watching the film on an immaculate, impressively sized screen, on the first working day of the new Cinematica. Cinema was made to be seen on the screen, not on a laptop or TV. The trouble is that there are fewer and fewer screens available to watch the kind of films that don’t come from the commercial stable. Now, all of a sudden, there are three screens within walking distance. As black and white shots of Stockholm took form upon the screen, transporting me to a world I’ve never visited and never will, I felt as though, in a world where so much seems to be wrong so much of the time, finally something was right.
The inauguration of Cinematica had occurred the night before. I didn’t go, but a friend who’s going to run the coffee shop concession told me that he gave away 600 cups of coffee. I’m not sorry to have missed it. The real opening, the first day of business, was a low-key affair. Staff struggled with a new ticketing system. The staff, who are the same people who worked in the old Cinematecas, greeted those who turned out with smiles. The Pantalla 3 for the afternoon showing of the Bergman was about a third full. Being there felt like belonging to a new community.
Summer with Monika was an inspired opening choice. A wistful, nostalgic, sexy, film, that seemed to contain the seeds of so much cinematic history that came to pass thereafter. The film narrates the story of a blissful but doomed relationship conducted over the course of under a year. Harry falls for the wilful but charming Monika, they flee the city and lead a Summer idyll on a boat, then they have to come back and it all goes to pot. The narrative is simple and predictable, but the film has a splendid decadent charm. Made in 1953, it seems to foretell the whole of the decade that was to come. Emerging from austerity into a hedonistic, hippy heaven, before grim reality kicks in and the dream turns into a nightmare. Bergman infuses the film with the occasional expressionist touch, such as when Monika, played with insouciant charm by Harriet Andersson, stares at the camera. There are beautiful cameos from a range of character actors, and the way Bergman and his cinematographer capture the Summer idyll by the beach, most of which is without dialogue, is mesmerising.
Perhaps the film contains an innate metaphor for the act of going to the cinema itself: the escape from reality, the isolated reality in the bubble of the cinema; then the return to the world with its harsh realities. Only this time, as I left the cinema on a suitably rainy December afternoon, and headed to the Farmacia for a coffee, the world didn’t feel so bad after all.