Cinema of Sweden
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Swedish cinema is one of the most widely-known national cinemas in the world, and during the 20th century was the most prominent of Scandinavia. This is largely due to the popularity and prominence of the directors Ingmar Bergman, Victor Sjöström, and more recently Lasse Hallström.
Characteristics of Swedish cinema
Swedish films, and Scandinavian films in general, are known for stark landscapes and slow pacing. The playwright August Strindberg has dominated much of the filmmaking in Sweden, largely because of the close ties there between the film industry and the live theater industry.
Early Swedish cinema
Swedish filmmaking rose to international prominence with the founding of Svenska Biografteatern in 1912, which had two star directors: Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller. Stiller was responsible for the early popularity of Greta Garbo, particularly through the film The Saga of Gösta Berling (1924). Many of the films made at the Biografteatern had a significant impact on German directors of the silent and early sound eras, largely because Germany was cut off from French, British, and American influences through World War I.
In the mid-twenties, both of these directors and Garbo moved to the United States to work for MGM, bringing Swedish influence to Hollywood, where he made some of his best-known films there (most notably The Wind (1928). The departure of the two directors left a vacuum in Swedish cinema, which went into a financial crisis consequently. Sjöström returned to Sweden in 1928, where he made two more films.
The advent of the talking movie at the beginning of the 1930s brought about a financial stabilization for Swedish cinema, but artistic and international ambitions were sacrificed for this financial success. Some provincial comedies were filmed that were created for the local market.
Swedish cinema through WWII
The most famous and influential Swedish filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, rose to prominence in the fifties. He began making films in the mid-forties, and in 1955, he made Smiles of a Summer Night, which brought him international attention. A year later, he made one of his most famous films, The Seventh Seal. In the 1960s, Bergman won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for two consecutive years, with The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan) in 1960 and Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en spegel) in 1961. He won the award again in 1983, for the early twentieth century family drama Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander). Bergman has also been nominated for the Best Picture award once, with the 1973 Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop), the story of two sisters watching over their third sister's deathbed, both afraid she might die, but hoping she does. The film lost to The Sting, and oddly enough, it was not nominated in the Foreign Language Film category. It also gave Bergman the first of three nominations for Best Director. Ingmar Bergman also won no less than four Golden Globe Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
Working closely with Bergman, cinematographer Sven Nykvist can be said to have had a major impact on the visual aspect of Swedish cinema. Twice the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, for Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander, Nykvist is considered by many to be one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. He also directed The Ox (Oxen) (1991), nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1992.
Also starting his career working with Bergman, Vilgot Sjöman debuted in 1962 with The Swedish Mistress (Älskarinnan), but attracted far wider attention in Sweden when his film 491 was originally banned by the Swedish censors due to its explicit sexual content. After some cutting, it was released in 1964. Sjöman went on to cause even wider controversy, depicting sexual intercourse in his 1967 film I Am Curious (Yellow) (Jag är nyfiken - en film i gult). In the United States the film was considered pornography and seized by the customs and banned until 1969. When the film was eventually released, the publicity gained from the legal fight and the revolutionary graphic content drew huge crowds, making the film the most successful Swedish film export ever. Most probably, it was also instrumental in establishing a view of Swedish cinema - and perhaps even Swedes in general - as having a liberal attitude towards sexuality.
Another Swedish postwar filmmaker of note is Bo Widerberg. His 1963 film Raven's End (Kvarteret Korpen) and The Man on the Roof (Mannen på taket) are widely regarded as Swedish film classics. His later works include The Serpent's Way (Ormens väg på hälleberget) and All Things Fair (Lust och fägring stor). Widerberg got as many as three Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign-Language Film, for Raven's End, Ådalen 31 and All Things Fair, but never won the award.
Jan Troell started his career as Widerberg's director of photography, but could soon debut with his own film This Is Your Life (Här har du ditt liv). He went on to direct The Emigrants (Utvandrarna) in 1971 and its sequel The New Land (Nybyggarna) the following year. The films are based on Vilhelm Moberg's epic novels about the Swedish emigration to America in the 19th century, books extremely well known in Sweden. The Emigrants was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. After that Troell went to Hollywood, where he directed Zandy's Bride, starring Gene Hackman, and Hurricane. He returned to Sweden to make The Flight of the Eagle (Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd), a film about the Swedish explorer Andrée's disastrous 1897 polar expedition. The film gained an Academy Awards nomination for best foreign language film. Later works include the controversial Il Capitano: A Swedish Requiem (Il Capitano), Hamsun, about Knut Hamsun, As White as in Snow (Så vit som en snö), and several documentaries.
In 1968, Stefan Jarl's and Jan Lindqvist's documentary They Call Us Misfits (Dom kallar oss mods) was released. The film, the first in what would become a trilogy, is an uncompromising account of the life of two alienated teenagers. Stefan Jarl went on to make several other celebrated documentaries in the 1980s and 1990s.
Roy Andersson had a breakthrough with his first feature-length film, A Swedish Love Story in 1969, and was awarded four prizes at the International Film Festival in Berlin the same year. Following the financial and critical disaster of his 1975 film Giliap he took a two-decade break from film directing. In March 1996, Andersson began filming Songs from the Second Floor, that premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, winning the Special Jury Price. Andersson's return to filmmaking was a major success with the critics, earning him five Guldbagge Awards in Sweden for best film, direction, cinematography, screenplay and sound.
Contemporary Swedish cinema
Director Lasse Hallström made his feature-length film debut in 1975 with the comedy A Guy and a Gal (En Kille och en tjej) featuring the well-known Swedish comic duo Magnus Härenstam and Brasse Brännström. He was the man behind most of ABBA's music videos, as well as the film ABBA: The Movie. My Life as a Dog, released in Sweden in 1985, was nominated for two 1987 Academy Awards, for directing and for adapted screenplay. In 1998 it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Following the film's international success, Hallström has worked on American movies - What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat and Casanova, among others.
Lukas Moodysson's first feature-length film, the Fucking Åmål (aka Show Me Love) was a huge success in Sweden. The lovingly depicted teenage angst of the main characters played well with the audience and won four Guldbagge Awards in 1998. The follow-up Together (Tillsammans) (2000) was an upbeat comedy, albeit with some darkly satirical undertones, set in a 1970s Stockholm commune. But Moodyson's filmmaking then took a radically different direction. The 2002 Lilya 4-ever (Lilja 4-ever) is a dark, tragic story about trafficking in human beings, and the 2004 A Hole in My Heart (Ett hål i mitt hjärta) deals with an amateur porn movie recording, causing some controversy due to its shocking and disturbing footage.
Other young Swedish filmmakers that have seen major success in recent years include Lebanon-born director Josef Fares, with the comedies Jalla! Jalla! (2000) and Kopps (2003), and the refugee drama Zozo (2005), Iranian-born Reza Parsa with the drama Before the Storm (Före stormen) (2000), and Maria Blom, with the comedy Dalecarlians (Masjävlar) (2004).
The Swedish film industry
The Swedish Film Institute was founded in 1963 to support and develop the Swedish film industry. It supports Swedish filmmakings and allocates grants for production, distribution and public showing of Swedish films in Sweden. It also promotes Swedish cinema internationally. Furthermore, the Institute organises the annual Guldbagge awards.
Through the Swedish Film Agreement, between the Swedish state and the film and media industry, the Government of Sweden, the TV companies which are party to the agreement, and Sweden's cinema owners jointly fund the Film Institute and thus, indirectly, Swedish filmmaking. The current agreement runs from January 1, 2006, until December 31, 2010.
At a rate of, currently, 20 films a year the Swedish film industry is on par with other comparable North European countries.
In Trollhättan Municipality there is a film production facility known as Trollywood; movies shot there include Fucking Åmål, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville. The movie studio Film i Väst centered here produces about half of Sweden's full-length films.
In 2006 the short film An Autumn Twilight (Dowdall, 2007) was the first international film (UK) to take an official award from the Swedish Arts and Culture Fund (SACF). This showing that Swedish cinema is creating its own standards within the international film world.
Fucking Åmål (1998) - Lukas Moodysson