by Allan Fish
(Sweden 1970 120m) DVD2 (Sweden only)
Aka. En Kärlekshistoria
The world’s not meant for lonely people
p/d/w Roy Andersson ph Jorgen Persson ed Kalle Boman m Björn Isfält
Ann-Sofie Kylin (Annika), Rolf Sohlman (Pär), Anita Lindblom (Eva), Bertil Norström (John, Annika’s father), Margreth Weivers (Elsa, Annika’s mother), Gunnar Ossiander (Pär’s grandfather), Lennart Tellfeldt (Lasse, Pär’s father), Maud Backéus (Gunhild, Pär’s mother), Björn Andresen, Arne Andersson,
Here’s a truly obscure one for many cineastes, a film barely heard of outside its native Sweden, but so cherished within its confines that it’s amazing that it’s so unknown to the English-speaking world. Even after the success of Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor in 2000, no-one seemed interested in going back to find what still remains his masterpiece, and one of the great Swedish films of the post-war period not directed by Ingmar Bergman. At its heart is a simple love story. Films about adolescents, teens rebelling against the world, are commonplace and rarely out of the ordinary. Films detailing young adult lovers on the run from the law and/or authority are also rather plentiful, and rarely up to much either. Rarer achievements than both of these, however, are films dealing with the onset of first love among young teens of the Romeo and Juliet generation. Of course there is alienation and rebellion in the air, a rejection of the attitudes of their forefathers, a futile attempt to be cool. What’s different is the lack of cynicism. Its protagonists are simply meant to fall in love with each other, and coming from an anti-romantic, that’s saying a great deal.
So why is a film about a young lad of fifteen and his younger fourteen year old beloved so special? It’s a number of reasons actually. Its biggest attribute is its decision to rest in the world of the teenagers. The camera doesn’t so much observe events as act as Cupid. The restraint and painful truth of those first backward glances at each other at a gathering, in the street and in a café, where not a word need be said, is quite superbly caught. As is the atmosphere of the turn of the seventies, with its long-haired moped riding, cigarette smoking youths and their equally cancer stick puffing female attendants in those impossibly short mini-skirts that seem compulsory after the age of fourteen (and sported by our young heroine in the film’s most iconic shot, an embrace seen through the wire mesh of a tennis court). Not to mention the less obvious period trappings, from the outrageous attempts at interior décor to the little girl at the opening gathering, attempting to play “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” on that tuneless instrument of infant musical torture, the recorder.
Still, though, we return to Annika and her bit of fluff, and just to watch Pär drawn to her is so accurately observed as to give one a sense of déjà vu and experience the first pangs of love all over again. The two youngsters are perfectly suited to this innocent view of the world, especially Kylin, whose face will haunt you for the rest of your natural life; looking equal parts a young Ludivine Sagnier and a pubescent Russian tennis player. Her face lit up by the exquisite camerawork of that master Persson in a way that captures the golden glow of first love. The moment when they finally sleep together is done in such an unfussy, natural way as to be extremely touching, perfectly capturing the inexperienced fumbling and groping of that first time. Their innocence captured in the simple depiction of their sharing a pair of pyjamas.
All of which might make you think Andersson’s film was just a lucky fluke, but nothing could be further from the truth. Andersson’s delicate touch belied his tender years, admittedly helped by Isfält’s score, which uncannily captures the mood and tone of the immortal “Stand by Me” with none of the tune. Though what really startles, more than anything, is the way he allows many of the adults to seem like exaggerated caricatures, figures in black and white as seen through the blissfully love-struck eyes of uncomplicated youth. If ever you wanted reminding of what love’s about, check it out.