with Annika: A Swedish Love Story (1970)
of very few works – four films in thirty-seven years, including Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007) – Roy Andersson
made his first film in 1970, a tale of adolescent love set against the backdrop
of a cruel tableau of the petite bourgeoisie wedged between conformity and
frustration. Rediscovered now, A Swedish
Love Story (En Kärlekshistoria)
shows the inauguration of a critical gaze that has never deviated from its just
year-old Pär (Rolf Sohlman) and fourteen year-old Annika (Ann-Sofie Kylin) fall
in love: around them swirl parents, friends, rivals –
a series of microcosms which evoke a society apparently permissive, but
secretly in tatters. According to a type of approach which the filmmaker will
systematise in his subsequent works, the film proceeds in large, almost
autonomous sequence-blocks, beginning with a visit involving the families of
both adolescents to their close relations in a nursing home (this is, in fact,
where the youths first meet), and ending with a party in a country estate where
Annika’s parents are received by Pär’s family.
in a stage play, the red curtain rises: the film can start. The first sequence
sets out the décor, after a prologue where we hear that girls are partial to
aggressive boys ... However, the protagonists are
fragile creatures who discover their amorous attraction via a simple exchange
of looks – a furtive moment which the camera captures on the fly. Awkward and
sensitive, these two youths, at the border between childhood and adolescence,
give themselves an aura of freedom by going to discos, cigarettes between their
lips. Happily, their ingenuousness does not lead to anything too terrible;
exposed to the mocking gaze of adults, they manage to preserve the delicacy of
their feelings and the justice of their attitudes.
filmmaker observes his pre-adolescents like creatures still in a state of
innocence, before maturity catches up and leads them to the mediocrity of
adults. Pär, at one point humiliated by a bigger lad who repeatedly slaps him,
takes refuge in solitude, and then gives in once more to the attraction he
feels for Annika – a very young girl who wears her miniskirt with unforced
impudence. Andersson captures the furtive gestures that express love, such as
when the boy walks, pushing his motorbike, while the girl follows him, her hand
delicately laid on the back saddle.
is for the adults that the filmmaker reserves his bile. Andersson does not need
to force this aspect: the adults seem flattened by the rigidity of their
horizon, privately as well as publicly, in the family context as much as at
work. Annika’s father John (Bertil Norström), who secretly hopes his daughter
will take revenge on all that has disillusioned him, is a ball of frustration,
regarding himself as a ‘shit’ and spreading his dissatisfaction: ‘Humanity is
composed of a bunch of bastards’, or ‘Money is the only thing that matters’. In
the long final sequence where the pitiful adults whip up a grotesque party,
with their lobster-spotted bibs and undersize clown hats, Andersson finally
hardens his depiction. At dawn, when the guests return from a spot of night
fishing, having feared that Annika’s father was lost, the filmmaker portrays a
miserable cohort. The only people who stand out are the two adolescents, boy
carrying girl on his back.
this delicate balancing act, which involves showing the shipwreck of adult life
while keeping the optimism which accompanies adolescence completely intact,
Andersson manages to steer a steady course right to the end. The minimalism of
his narrative reaches into the dark zones, where we can see the exposure of
wasted lives, the mediocrity of the everyday ... and the necessity, despite
everything, to not wallow in despair. The radiant beauty of Annika and Pär and
their emotional fusion affirms a state of miraculous grace: that grace which
occurs before the dilapidations of the flesh and the compromises of adulthood.
As if it were still possible to dream that mankind had not been drummed out of
the Garden of Eden ...
A Swedish Love Story, in its manner of elaborating only the subtlest tones, never descends into caricature. Even the most pitiful characters are not left as mere cartoons; they retain a tragic humanity, and their ordinary drama is not just a demonstration of existential absurdity. In this light, Annika and Pär, in their awakening love, might be able to hope for some meaning in their lives.
This review appeared in Positif, no. 568 (June 2008), pp. 40-41. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Text © Jean A. Gili 2008. Translation © Adrian Martin and Rouge February 2009.