Documentarian Mark Cousins makes the move to fiction with Stockholm, My Love, also marking singer Neneh Cherry’s feature debut in a melancholy turn peppered with naturalistic renditions of her own music. The result is an uplifting love letter to the Swedish capital.
Cherry fully inhabits her role as Alva, an architect skipping work on the anniversary of a car accident which resulted in the death of an elderly man. As she wanders the streets of Stockholm, Alva mentally composes a letter to her African-born father. Reflecting on the accident as well as the 1986 assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme, a national trauma that has become caught up with Alva’s personal tragedy, both events are for Alva written into the city’s grey concrete and minimalist architecture. It’s almost a cliché that cities in cinema – New York, Los Angeles, Paris – are described as characters in their own right, but so strong is Stockholm’s presence in Cousin’s film that it is rightly granted second billing in the opening credits.
And although Cherry’s expressive performance is doggedly scrutinised by Cousin’s lens, it is the city in all its guises that dominates his frame. Cousins privileges Stockholm’s structures, sounds and movements over its human inhabitants, who more often than not are shot at a distance – micro features of the urban sprawl. Early sequences prioritise the municipal spaces where women with prams rush for the bus and callow teens strut in brightly-coloured hoodies, yet there is a coldness to Alva’s observations, wondering about her subjects with a detached neutrality. The reason for her detachment becomes clearer as she nears the site of the accident, recalling poetically incidental details such as the oranges flung from the man as he hit the car, while archival footage of the aftermath of Palme’s assassination plays over Alva’s narration.
Making sense of her own tragedy through the perspective of national trauma, Alva writes her own meaning on to the cold surfaces of the city, transcribing messy, spiralling grief on to its rational, utilitarian lines. The third act brings a tempered sense of salvation as Alva notices the spontaneous human activity around her – a man skinny dipping, teenagers skateboarding – joining in their revelatory joy by taking a rollercoaster ride. It’s a cathartic moment of speed and movement, followed by a musical sequence in a skate park that is both gorgeous and captivating in its simplicity.
Cousins’ Stockholm is a contradictory space of both perdition and redemption, a place in which to lose oneself while simultaneously recovering lost identity, where time does not pass but is layered with memory and experience. Stockholm, My Love is sure to induce warm feelings in those who share Cousins’ love of the city, but that peculiarly urban paradox of distance and intimacy will resonate even with those unfamiliar with Sweden’s capital.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell