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DVD Review: ‘A Swedish Love Story’

★★★★★

Roy Andersson’s debut feature A Swedish Love Story (1970) is an atypically naturalistic piece, balancing the austerity of later films with a touching and beautifully realised romanticism that captures the first stirrings of young love with an honesty that no other film has impinged upon. Superficial comparison would place the film in the same company as fellow Swede Lukas Moodysson’s Fucking Åmål (1998), with its consistent themes of generational miscommunication and amorous teenagers; yet Andersson’s film is a far more accomplished and complex work that loses none of its poignancy for its scope and deviations.

Opening with the raising of a Hammer-red stage curtain, the film aims to contrast the heightened emotions and simple desires of youth with the realities and discrepancy of adult life, so many of the older characters lamenting dreams that never materialised and paths never followed. The plot is pointedly directionless, more a series of beautiful and painfully true vignettes – a structural feature taken to its extremes in later features – detailing the lives of teenagers Annika and Pär through their first encounters to their parents’ eventual meeting: disastrous, yes, but in a way that opts for understatement and quiet tragedy over crudity.

An early scene has the two teenagers exchange glances from across a park, their charged looks never quite meeting, always catching the unreadable reverse of the other’s head; a defining image of miscommunication that pervades the film. Pär’s fevered glimpses of Annika across his Grandfather’s birthday picnic are perhaps the most perfect screen representation of the first stirrings of attraction, lust and physical need. This scene acts as a microcosm of the film’s entire structure, coming to a head when the grandfather declares that he doesn’t want to leave the hospital’s care: “The world isn’t made for the lonely” he spits, choking tears and a mouthful of cake.

Trying to fill their lives with products and indulgences, they are portrayed in tragic contrast to the children, who revel in purely being together, in each other’s touch. In a wonderfully played scene, Pär’s family have a set of swinging doors installed in their white-washed country house. Upon mounting them the room is left in an empty silence as the family looks upon them, unaffected and unfulfilled. “They swing a little unevenly”, somebody finally comments.
Andersson’s film touches upon themes and techniques he has since made his own, with strains of absurdist visual humour, playful use of negative space and a preoccupation with inertness signalling the direction his subsequent work would take. However, A Swedish Love Story is arguably his most effective (and affective) work, albeit one that is often overlooked in favour of striking stylised portmanteaus Songs From the Second Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007).

Robert Savage