We're heading to Scandinavia this week with our selection of films to catch at home
by Amber Wilkinson
The Phantom Carriage
If you ask someone to name a Swedish film, there's a high likelihood that Ingmar Bergman and, particularly, the subject of Death and chess may come up but Sweden's cinematic output runs wide and deep. Early pioneering studio Svenska Biografteatern helped the country to get a foothold on the international stage and notable early films include Victor Sjöström's 1921 silent horror The Phantom Carriage (which is in the public domain and available to view here, among other places). The country proved that it can still make the global headlines earlier this year when Gothenburg Film Festival screened its entire 60-movie programme in a lighthouse for a competition winner - Swedish nurse Lisa Enroth, who was one of 12,000 entrants worldwide.
So this week we're taking a break from themes for our Streaming Spotlight to shine a light on a handful of highlights from Swedish cinema, including some well-known names and others ripe for discovery. If you're looking for more inspiration for films to watch at home, check out our regular Stay-At-Home Seven selection and last week's spotlight on bee movies.
When it comes to a distinctive style, films don't come much more recognisable than those from Roy Andersson, whose unique process involves crafting each "scene" in the Stockholm studio - where he also lives - with a team of designers who craft everything from the grass on up to moving trains. This modus operandi is something he developed mid-career, having received early acclaim with the naturalistic A Swedish Love Story and a critical drubbing for the follow-up Giliap, which saw him quit filmmaking for advertising for a quarter of a century. This, his latest and, quite possibly, his last film strikes a more melancholy note than his earlier "The Living" trilogy but is also a perfect example of Andersson's eye for life's absurdities - from the priest with no faith to a man desperately stuffing money into a mattress. There's a bleakness to this - some of which likely stems from the personal tribulations Andersson was experiencing at the time and which are well-documented by Fred Scott's Being A Human Person (available on Amazon). Beauty is never far away, however, from the joy of unexpected dancing to the soft warmth generated by the sight of falling snow.
Lasse Hallström began his career directing music videos for Abba but soon moved into longer form work, including this early Oscar-nominated (in both the foreign language category and for its script) coming-of-age film based on the semi-autobiographical novel by, and co-scripted with Reidar Jönsson. The story - about 12-year-old Ingemar (played with charming gusto by Anton Glanzelius) who is split up from his brother and sent to live with his aunt and uncle when his mother becomes ill - captures the intensity of the move from childhood into early adolescence, bringing with it a knowledge of mortality. There's a freshness to the child's eye perspective and the bittersweet story avoids the sentimentality that would creep into Hallström's later work like Chocolat.
Jennie Kermode writes: Sometimes the aim of art is to make the viewer uncomfortable, and it doesn't get much more uncomfortable than this multi-layered drama centred on the discomfiting ritual of a high school reunion. Helmed by controversial artist Anna Odell, it features two alternate versions of her, the first attending a reunion with fictionalised versions of her real life former classmates, the other making a film about such an event. There are themes of revenge and the exposure of past misdeeds, along with questions about whether we really change with time or just become better at concealing our true selves. No-one comes out of it well. Is this fair to the real people who have no chance to defend themselves except through Odell's lines? She is no kinder to herself. It's an indulgent yet genuinely challenging and intelligent piece of work which, if you're willing to be patient with its characters, makes for fascinating viewing.
An enticing mix of vampire horror, coming of age drama and teenage romance, John Ajvide Lindqvist proves adept at adaptation converting his book to a tight script, shot with a chilly realism by Thomas Alfredson, who balances the mood of mystery, dark comedy and revenge horror with a chilly prowess. This story of a bullied boy's love for a girl with a dark secret is full of surprises and shot with a realism that melds its more fantastical elements almost seamlessly with the grit of real life, helping them to hit home all the harder. The sound design also contributes much to the horror of what is unseen, from the thrum of a knife to ragged breathing. The English-language remake, which strikes a different tone is also worth a look (and available on Amazon) but the original remains the best.
Jennie Kermode writes: Adapted from the middle one of the three Millennium books completed whilst author Stieg Larsson was still alive, this film has a difficult task in picking up after the very tidily concluded and complete The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, It focuses in fleshing out the details of the leading characters' lives, with stars Noomi Rapace and the late Michael Nyqvist once again on superb form, whilst entangling them in what - obviously to the viewer, if not to them - turns out to be the same conspiracy. Larsson went somewhat over the top here in trying to pack in multiple social and political concerns he had entertained as a journalist, but as director Daniel Alfredson explained to us, he initially worked from incomplete drafts, and his film is much slimmer and punchier. Though perhaps not the best place to come into this rambling story, it's smart, tense, and a satisfying slice of Nordic noir.
The Square, Curzon, GooglePlay, Amazon and other platforms
Ruben Östlund's satirical sideswipe at everything from capitalism to the art establishment and toxic masculinity was Oscar-nominated in 2018, where it lost out to A Fantastic Woman. Although sometimes slightly unwieldy in structure, his tale of museum curator Christian (Claes Bang), who finds no good deed goes unpunished, carefully skewers modern society by showing what happens when liberal ideals come crashing headlong into reality. With strong visuals, that also major in "squares", strong supporting performances by the likes of Elisabeth Moss and a desert-dry ear of humour, Östlund - who claims "everything should have a monkey in it" - throws so many ideas into the mix it's hard not to be gripped.
Jennie Kermode writes: Pernilla August is best known for her acting work but gets good results behind the camera in this haunting tale about a woman whose broken relationship with her mother threatens to wreak havoc on the family she has since built. The central role seems tailor made for Noomi Rapace, who stars alongside real-life husband Ola with Tehilla Blad playing her younger self (as she did in the Millennium films). August has had a longstanding interest in exploring women's responses to difficult situations and here she focuses on the emotional difficulty that emerges when trying to separate an individual from an addiction, asking if it's reasonable or even possible to go on loving someone if one knows one cannot save that person, as well as looking at the long term effects of exposure to violence. It's an intricately detailed, tense and claustrophobic piece of work which launched August on a new career path.
Our short selection this week is Patrik Eklund's Instead Of Abracadabra - which was Oscar nominated in 2008 and stars Simon J Berger, who is now a Swedish telly regular. Ekland has also since gone on to forge an extensive career, with films including Flicker and several television series.