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A Swedish Love Story

A Swedish Love Story

By Dominic Walker • February 17th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
AB Europa Film

Original release: April 24th, 1970
Running time: 115 minutes

Country of origin: Sweden
Original language: Swedish

Writer and director: Roy Andersson

Cast: Ann-Sofie Kylin, Rolf Sohlman

A Swedish Love Story

Interestingly, the precise translation of Roy Anderrson’s 1970 debut is just A Love Story. Whoever decided- and I sincerely hope and believe it wasn’t Andersson – to append a national particularity couldn’t have known how asinine and incongruous such an amendment would be made to seem by the exceptional universality of this of all stories. Granted, the film is set in Sweden, speaks Swedish and features a cast exclusively consisting of Swedes, but these are superficial characteristics. Stories have to happen somewhere, and this one happens to happen in Sweden. So what? Should Love Actually be renamed English Love, Actually, just because it takes place on Blighty? Well, probably, but that’s a perverse example. When Swedes falls in love, do they, on romantic moonlit nights by the fjord, whisper to one another: “I Swedish love you”? No!

There’s nothing particularly Swedish about this story. There’s nothing particularly particular about it at all. A Swedish Love Story retells the love story of adolescence. You find it in the second century with Daphnis and Chloe, and even that Roman novel was remembering something older, some pastoral perfection lost over and over again, by every foregoing generation to the fall of Athens, indeed to the Fall of Man.

When Samson-haired fifteen year old Pär first spies Annika, the lovely, taciturn heroine of this story, they’re reluctant guests at separate family picnics. With unmistakable symbolism, a child, some relation presumably, is tickling the back of her knees with a perforated fig leaf. Pär gazes on. For scene after scene they exchange looks, in cafes and youth clubs, and barely utter a word to one another. Their language is sidelong furtive glances. For reasons mysterious to them both, they toy with each other, withholding their affections and conferring them, aware perhaps for the first time of their erotic powers. They’re, like all good teenage lovers, pathological narcissists. And why not?

A Swedish Love Story

This is a strikingly candid and unembarrassed representation of adolescence and adolescent infatuation. “Teenage” has become a word with principally derogatory connotations: people tend to want to disavow their adolescent years as years of folly thankfully surmounted, especially in England. Perhaps like Annika’s increasingly delirious father, we “don’t like talking about the past”: contrasts with the present are too painful. But A Swedish Love Story fortunately doesn’t see the behaviour of these young people – relentlessly smoking, strutting and posing, for example, or mumbling incoherently – with adult eyes. It refuses to condescend or to stereotype. Andersson was just twenty-six when he made this film; and if anything it sees the adult world, in all its dreary pragmatism and absurdity, from an adolescent perspective.

At that aperture the film opens in another direction, which concerns most of the final act. The love story of Annika and Pär is counter-pointed by the disappointed and desperate lives of their families. Annika’s aunt is a lonely spinster, who stares elegiacally at her niece’s beauty; boredom, lovelessness and materialism have tumbled into depression for her mother, who believes with half of the world that “it will be better when we get our new flat”; and her father is an avaricious salesman, violent, cruel and disposed to maniacal laughter.

The parents hate each other as though each were the other’s jailor. A Swedish Love StoryThere’s a hideously funny scene in which the mother, weeping in bed, pretends to be learning Spanish from an audiobook while her husband drinks whisky and plays with his rifle, shooting at imaginary targets. It’s a grotesque satirical tableau of middle-age middle-class aspirations, delusions and disillusions.

Pär’s folks are somewhat more human and less reprehensible, though nevertheless fiercely repressed and profoundly boring. His mother is a silent ghostly woman, emaciated by self-denial, and his father is a stern, austere mechanic with anger lurking in his narrow eyes. When they hold a party at their humble country retreat, inviting Annika’s parents, the prodigious consumption of aquavit summons class prejudices from the shadows; and the two patriarchs boast of their successes and insult one another with duplicitous cheer, before everything gets rather nasty.

Beautifully shot and mellifluously paced, A Swedish Love Story wears the accomplishment of its direction and storytelling quite unobtrusively. The performances Andersson manages to get from fifteen and sixteen year olds are little short of miraculous. I won’t attempt to describe the complexity and tenderness of their interaction. It is, suffice to say, intensely moving. A Swedish Love Story is a kind of anti-Romeo and Juliet, perhaps unexpectedly political in one interpretation of the story. Love is never “star-crossed” by the conflicting determinations of your hapless progenitors. It is the boundless freedom of self-creation. Despite what is and what’s gone before, the film seems to say, you can make your own life as you wish.

Dominic Walker

Dominic Walker

Dominic is an English graduate, promiscuous dilettante and epistemological liability. He likes the sentimentalisation of loathsomeness, fetishized Teutonic Romanticism, the labour theory of value and Manchester United’s transcendent Bulgarian striker, Dimitar Berbatov. He abominates Certainty, curses The Wealth of Nations, and detests only mayonnaise more than asinine bathetic turns.

His favourite kinds of film are laborious, unyielding, laboriously unyielding, anything you’ve never heard of, and pornographic. At twenty-three, his achievements include A Spectroscopic Study of the Notion of Perineum in Jane Austen’s Later-Early Period, for which he won a MOBO award, and this sentence.

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