It's been a while since I attended a World Cinema Series screening at the National Museum, and this 1970 film by Roy Andersson, making his feature film debut with A Swedish Love Story, was an opportunity to head back to soak in yet another important film in the history of cinema, and a film that perhaps is making its premiere in Singapore as well. Presented by Ben Slater, he managed to confirm with a Swedish member of the audience that En k‰rlekshistoria means just that in English, something which I thought probably would have translated to something more sophisticated rather than to seem as if it's differentiating itself from the Ryan O'Neal-Ali McGraw American romance movie Love Story.
And sophisticated this film may not be at all, on the surface at least. Being a film made in the past, there was this scene that brought back some nostalgia and giggles from the audience for what we would now take for granted, with the proliferation of digital technology in photographic cameras. In an instant we can take a picture with our loved ones as easy as 1-2-3. Back then when a camera still requires film, focus, and plenty of patience to frame your subject, the icing on the cake was the lack of a timer and auto-shutter, relying on a stick long enough to click a picture for posterity.
This romantic tale follows teenagers Annika (Ann-Sofie Kylin) and Par (Rolf Sohlman) from courtship to the consummation of a young relationship. Like all great romances, they meet by chance in their respective family outings, before actively pursuing each other through the games people usually play. One thing's for sure, that basic human attachment and attraction for another follows a relatively set path, and these young lovers have their fair share of ups and downs, passionate expressions of love and passive tiffs. Andersson had succinctly captured the exhileration of such passion, that probably wouldn't even begin due to their shyness and initial reluctance, relying on proxies to help each other communicate.
Some standard "practices" (if I may), like the visiting of each other's parents, also got into the narrative, and will likely strike a chord with many viewers. As will the way the teenagers are decked out with their bikes and leather jackets, which initially I felt leapt right out of the musical Grease (made much later of course). There were plenty of smoking as well which I can't help but notice - I think almost every character here lights up at some point - where cigarettes and booze seem to be the norm for the teenagers seeking a good time.
I felt Ann-Sofie Kylin probably got an easier role as compared to Rolf Sohlman as her opposite. Hers somehow got stuck to a single minded pining for a guy who for some reason is terribly attractive to her, never mind that Andersson had made him somewhat of a wimp, being unable to stand up to a bigger sized bully. That arc though mysteriously disappeared other than eliciting a one-line from Pär to want to seek revenge, probably because the message here is of love and not war, even at the expense of not being able to redeem some face back when being out-slapped in the playing fields in full view of his peers.
The film was nicely bookend by the involvement of family. At the beginning, we see how the families, then strangers, had one party visibly and audibly perturbed by the other's barking dog. But that didn't turn out to be Romeo and Juliet feuding proportions of course, and Fate has this wicked sense of humour to allow both families to come together again, this time over a party atmosphere thanks to the friendship of the teenage lovers. There's a healthy dose of cynical humour in the last act, which stood out because it was rather out of place, given everything else up until then not infused with similar comedy.
Not all's fine and dandy too, as there were ample moments throughout the film, and especially the end (where it seemed everything got squeezed together) where there was a sudden outburst of frustrations, as if being the mouthpiece of the director echoing some sentiments felt, from being a lowly employee, to class division, and earlier on in the film, even the brand of a car received a swipe.
A Swedish Love Story retains its romantic angle for the most parts, which took a backseat really in the last act after they have more or less firmed their relationship, giving way to a shift in focus to family members on both sides. With excellent landscapes and beautifully crafted scenes (I love that bike ride in the twilight), it goes to show that Love as a human condition and theme for a film well made will resonate amongst audiences, regardless of time and location.