A Swedish Love Story (1970)
Director: Roy Andersson
Cast: Ann-Sofie Kylin, Rolf Sohlman
Runtime: 115 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
I’m not sure if I can pinpoint exactly what it is that I love so much about a Roy Andersson film called A Swedish Love Story. Perhaps it’s that the female protagonist, Annika, looks exactly like a girl I once knew when I was the same age as Pär, the boy who falls for her, and whom she falls for too. A Swedish Love Story sent memories of childhood surging through me in a stream of consciousness and awareness so strong I genuinely felt inside me for the first time in a long while, nostalgia for a memory I have of a time when I was sixteen and sitting, staring up at the moonlight with a girl only a few months younger than me and saying for the first time ever what I was really thinking: “This moment is perfect.”
A Swedish Love Story triggered this memory and many others with its simple but beautiful tale of genuine affection between two young people that I think, god I hope everyone has experienced at some stage, whether in youth or adulthood. It is a summer romance stretched out over an unspecified period of time that could be months or years. It’s quiet, it’s lovely and it’s perfect, really. It’s the sort of romance that obviously doesn’t last. After time, they grow apart, and lose interest in each other. But Andersson doesn’t show any of that. For the entirety of this film, Annika and Pär are in love, and connect deeply with each others thoughts and dreams. Nothing could ever tear them apart, and nothing tries to. A lesser film would insert huge, looming, unrealistic obstacles for them to overcome, but Andersson doesn’t. He shows the teens as they are, experiencing real life love and affection in a way with which everyone can identify.
Andersson juxtaposes the bliss of this perfect connection with the sad reality of adult life. Marriages are in turmoil; the parents, drifting apart, care for their children and envy the perfect life of innocence they have. Annika’s father, suffering a midlife crisis, alienates his wife and daughter and storms off in frustration. The film’s final sequence, which beautifully and heartbreakingly shows the grace and wonder of Annika and Pär’s romance alongside the depressing mental sickness that seems to be taking over Annika’s father and sending his mentality and sense of humanity nosediving into utter oblivion. He has given up the fight, and Annika and Pär observe blankly the hell raging within him. We hope with our hearts those two never experience the feeling of being so completely lost that he faces each day.
Roy Andersson is a director well known for depressing black comedies such as Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. Those two films were about dead souls lost in a hellish world of unforgiving destitution. His short films World of Glory and Something Happened are two of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen – the former opens with footage of naked people being piled up into a truck and gassed, and the latter implies that AIDS was “created” by American scientists in laboratories, and humans were used as test subjects. Films like this came later in Andersson’s career. He also made a series of hilarious, bleak TV commercials that Ingmar Bergman called “the best in the world.” They juxtapose the sad reality of monotonous existence with genuinely engaging, funny humour in a way that echoes A Swedish Love Story, though A Swedish Love Story is easily the lightest work in Andersson’s oeuvre, and a movie in which the darkness, while it is indeed ever-present, remains sitting alone in the distance, not a problem of the present time for its two content protagonists.
Movies like A Swedish Love Story remind me what power movies can have when they really speak to the viewer on an intense, personal level. I reacted very personally to the film, and discovered that some people were less impressed with it than others. I think perhaps the problem they had was that the film was quite unconventional; there are no plot twists here, and indeed the plot itself seems to go nowhere. The film is not about plot (no Roy Andersson film is about its plot), nor does it really focus on it. Annika and Pär fall in love, and you either respond to that or you don’t. They’re wonderful, likable characters who are shy and introverted, but when together feel full and confident about the world. If you’ve experienced a connection with another human being like this personal, beautiful one, then you will know how Annika and Pär feel. I certainly did. It’s a giddy, overwhelming, incessantly wondrous feeling to be really, fully in love with someone, and whether Annika and Pär’s relationship lasts is not the point; the point is that they have one. They have a close, connected, strong one that really fully involves both of them and the deep, inner sexual gravitation that two people, if they’re lucky enough, will get the chance to feel with each other. It’s something so rich, so full and so beyond words that I applaud Andersson for his convincing, excellent, delightful recreation of it on screen, and as the grin on my face widens with the thought of the memories it’s raised inside me, and the thoughts it’s provoked, I thank the man too for this supreme example of great, evocative, personal cinema.