Love is a killer.

Love is selfish, obsessive, cruel, single-minded and sentimental. The true story of Elvira Madigan personifies another symptom of the condition. Can you live on love alone, without finance or friends? Is it possible to escape the world and create another - just for two?

Bo Widerberg's film breaks every rule in the book. There is no attempt at analysis, explanation or social understanding. A Swedish army officer in the late 19th century runs away with a tightrope walker. After a brief period of happiness, during which the isolation and danger of their predicament becomes ever more pressing, they agree on a suicide pact. It is the ultimate romantic tragedy, an admission of defeat and a gesture of defiance.

Characterisation is hinted at, rather than indulged. Like everything else about Widerberg's radical approach to storytelling, the audience must fill the spaces where biographical detail should be. The film is almost an hour old before it is discovered that the officer has a wife and family, abandoned and distraught, somewhere out there in the real world.

Uncompromisingly subjective, Elvira Madigan is breathtakingly beautiful. Mozart's Piano Concerto No 21 sweeps through scenes in idyllic woodscapes, like waves of pure emotion. The camerawork, often hand-held, feels the influence of the French Nouvelle Vague and the ethereal Pia Degermark, in her immaculately laundered summer dresses, conveys an innocence, tempered by experience. Elvira may come from an underprivileged class, but her quiet dignity disguises steely resolve. The officer (Thommy Berggren), by comparison, appears too infatuated to comprehend the seriousness of his situation. There is a suggestion of arrogance in his casual disregard of convention, as if feelings alone justify everything.

The film is unique, unlike anything before or since. Widerberg has so much faith in the power of cinema that he relies on a visual language to do the talking.

Either this is a masterpiece, or a folly. It could never be described as impartial.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2005
Share this with others on...
Elvira Madigan packshot
True story of a tragic love affair between a 19th century Swedish officer and a tightrope walker.
Amazon link

Director: Bo Widerberg

Writer: Bo Widerberg

Starring: Pia Degermark, Thommy Berggren, Lennart Malmer, Cleo Jensen, Nina Widerberg

Year: 1967

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Sweden


Search database: