Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
Though it won the Grand Prix at Berlin for its 26-year-old first-time writer/director in 1970, A Swedish Love Story is a Swedish classic too little remembered outside its native land. That should change thanks to a beautifully restored and English-subtitled print made by the Swedish Institute for the 2001 Rotterdam Film Festival’s timely tribute to Roy Andersson. His vision of youthful energy in a jaded world is both pungent and blackly funny, and it’s expressed with a cinematic assurance that remains fresh and eloquent.
The love story it tells is that of Pär, a stocky, faun-like 15-year-old who works in a garage, and the 13-year-old Annika, a pretty girl of better means. The film begins in a leafy sunlit park where the two catch each other’s attention at neighbouring picnics. Though, as we soon see, these gatherings are not exactly picnics. Both are with their families, visiting sick relatives in the grounds of a hospital, and neither visit is going well.
This marvellously detailed first scene introduces virtually every character and sets up the dichotomy that characterises the entire film. The adult world is fraught with illness, bitterness, snobbery and dismay. The young couple, on the other hand, although they aspire to adulthood, are blessed with a stubborn naivety, a capacity for pleasure and discovery.
Andersson’s tenderness for them is never in doubt, but he was never a sentimentalist. (Pär’s musical skills fall well short of his aspirations.) The miserably self-involved adults are sharply drawn and acutely recognisable, distant precursors to the grotesques who populate Songs from the Second Floor 30 years later. A seductively fluid camera style weaves us through naturalistic scenes that are as elaborately conceived as the stylised tableaux in the new film. But there’s a mordant humanism to A Swedish Love Story that is moving and funny – and the ending is nothing less than perfect. — BG