Written by Lizzie Taylor
Image: Story AB
Courtesy of Stockholm Film Festival
This is not your average review. In fact, it’s a little ‘annorlunda’ – the Swedish word for different. Why? Today, I took the opportunity to see Fia-Stina Sandlund’s She’s Wild Again Tonight. I knew nothing about the film before entering the auditorium; I had simply highlighted the times of the film in the festival programme with the hopes of seeing it. So, in short, I chose it simply because it was one ofthe many Scandinavian films on offer at the festival. Moreover, I knew nothing of the director’s previous work. I only had a small inkling of the career of Gustaf Norén and I had recently seen Shima Niavarani in the Swedish comedy series BoyBand.
What’s the point of all this: Put in the simplest way, She’s Wild Again Tonight is one of the most innovative, creative, intelligent, striking and enjoyable Scandinavian films I have had the pleasure to see over the years. There were many exceptional Scandinavian films on offer at this year’s festival, including Daniel Dencik’s visually and aurally stunning Gold Coast, and Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs. However, She’s Wild… was truly my favourite. It simply stood out from the Scandi crowd. I also had the pleasure of being at the final screening of the film at the festival in which director Fia-Stina Sandlund gave a short introduction to the film and returned for a Q&A session – a short, translated, summary of this Q&A accompanies this review.
Sandlund’s film is the final part of a trilogy based on August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie. The first two parts of the trilogy – She’s Blonde Like Me, and She’s Staging It – were released in 2012. So, it’s three years since Sandlund’s last film project. The final part focuses on the two character’s Gustaf and Shima, who play fictionalised versions of themselves, in a modern day adaptation of Strindberg’s Play. The title, She’s Wild Again Tonight, is an actual line of dialogue from the play – Gustaf is seen underlining this when he is trying to learn his lines, but it also refers to the personality of Shima and her dramatic persona Julie. In a short but inconclusive way, the film is a play within a play as Gustaf and Shima professionally and spontaneously act out their ‘life’ dramas and those of the characters and at times it’s hard to know when they’re being themselves – the lines between reality and fiction are blurred throughout the whole film.
The film opens with two men in a white studio space – art of theatre? – and they are conversing about a number of things, most importantly Shima. Their interaction is extremely homoerotic and saturated with phallocentric objects: Gustaf puts oil in John’s hand to ‘lube up’ the sausage making machine; Gustaf then helps to make the sausages and is uneasy whilst doing this; the pair eat gherkins and there is a moment when the flute of a champagne bottle is centralised as the cork is popping. As the two men talk about Shima, she manifests like Liza Minnelli in a black, glittery, showbiz outfit quoting Betty Boop’s ‘Boo Boo Pa Do’. Furthermore, Shima doesn’t fit with the decor of the room; the room is completely white like a sanitised Ikea advert and because there are no wall dividers, the furniture is arranged like in a theatre and they are respectively placed in terms of the rooms in a house. Moreover, there was one shot in the film that showed the layout of the filmic space and it reminded me very much of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville – also highly theatrical – but without the obvious demarcated lines. ‘Want a wild boar sausage?’ asks Gustaf sexually and Stima becomes part of ‘the play’.
The film will then become about Gustaf and Stima’s relationship – both professionally and privately – as they work on the play. They continually converse about performance, performing and the theatre but it feels as if they are already performing for an audience. John’s list on the wall acts like a series of stage directions and, more palpably, Stima and Gustaf sit in the ‘fake’ dressing room organised within the space. The placement of furniture within the room and the space itself is detrimental to the film. The furniture marks out rooms in which Stima and Gustaf act out their different scenes; the open space is reminiscent of the freedom allowed to actors when they’re in a play. The stage is an open space in which to act out the drama, and the characters’ use it to their full advantage in Sandlund’s film. In Gustaf and Shima’s terms, each area will become a playground for their real and fictional personalities.
There are very strong gender themes throughout the film, but there are also elements of psychoanalysis, literature, theatre (slapstick and vaudeville) and film. In fact, in order to fully understand this film I believe you have to be extremely literate – both theatrically and cinematically. For example, Shima is enormously eccentric. She looks like Clara Bow, a young Winona Ryder and is referred to a Liza Minnelli and Betty Boop. Moreover, she is an incredible actress – in both respects. Shima is able to flit between personas and performances with great ease; riding around on a bike alluding to Charlie Chaplin and then falling dramatically from the bike quoting Emily Brönte’s Wuthering Heights and Kate Bush’s musical version of the song – ‘It’s me Cathy’. Furthermore, Shima/Julie and Gustaf/John become more and more attracted to each other as the film moves on and so they lie down together in the famous Rolling Stone cover image of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The consummation of their relationship takes on new levels of drama.
There are a multitude of references throughout the film making it extremely intelligent and original. The blurred boundaries between literature, film and theatre and extremely exciting and the acting is simply incredible. I will definitely be exploring more of Sandlund’s previous work.
She’s Wild Again Tonight – Q&A with director Fia-Stina Sandlund*
Fia-Stina Sandlund held a Q&A session at the end of the film in which she talked about her inspirations, casting and filmmaking. In 2007, Fia received an article about Miss Julie that was analysed from a psychoanalytical and feminist perspective. She was deeply affected by this article and drew parallels between her life, the character and aspects of the play. The project then grew into a trilogy. She used the majority of the original structure of the text, but the biggest change – besides the fact that the film is set in the present day – is the omission of original text’s focus on class structures and the question of why certain people can’t be together. Furthermore, Sandlund stated that she worked closely with the actors and the play and they then twisted elements of the story so that it would become difficult for people to know what was reality and what was fiction. There is also a lot of improvisation in the film – the last scene, in particular is all improvised and the final product is a cutting together of several versions in the editing room. Some might notice the difference in make up!
Alexandra Dahlström was the original Shima character and when it came to the third film, Sandlund stated that Dahlström didn’t want to continue in the role. Therefore, Sandlund thought about only one more Swedish actress whom she thought had similar qualities to Miss Julie – Shima Niavarani. She confessed that she’s known Shima since she was young so, to her, it felt like natural casting. Shima was then in charge of choosing the men in the film. Gustaf Norén also composed all the music to the film. He actually left his band to be in the film.
Sandlund said that it’s brave to work with film. She finds it quite tough as there is th whole process of funding, finding a team and location. She thoroughly enjoyed the filming and editing process, but all the other stuff was very hard. In the end credits of the film, you can see the numerous companies who funded the film. An interesting executive producer on the film was Stockholm Film Festival director Git Scheynius. Furthermore, the film received financing from the festival’s feature film fund, as well as several other companies such as the Swedish Film Institute, Telia and Swedish broadcasting network SVT. In fact, it won the Stockholm Film Festival Feature Award in 2013 and enjoyed its world premiere at this year’s festival.
Sandlund’s film was finished but two days before the theatrical release. She admits that it opened to mixed reviews. Feminists think the film is great, but critics were more sceptical. She puts this down to the fact that the audience must understand what the film is about. It’s infused with all these elements of literature, theatre and cinema and if you don’t know any of them; then perhaps you’re lost? Lastly, Sandlund talks about the fact that she wasn’t so concerned with this film being in the style of a documentary. It is definitely an obvious aspect of the filming, but for this film it wasn’t so important. The actors moved quite freely on a number of occasions and it was the job of the cameraman to follow after them and see what unfolded.
Sandlund is has yet to decide on her next project. She has many ideas but nothing set in stone.
*The Q&A was held in Swedish and this abridged version was translated by Lizzie Taylor (21/11/2015)