Launched last month (5 September) across 200 Swedish and Norwegian screens, Swedish directors Magnus Gertten and Stefan Berg’s biopic on Swedish singer-songwriter and guitarist Björn Afzelius, A Thousand Pieces, has in less than eight weeks taken more than 100,000 admissions in Sweden (for TriArt Film), making it one of the most popular theatrical documentaries of the last 20 years.
“Elvis Presley made me start to sing, The Beatles to play guitar, Bob Dylan to care about the lyrics of rock music and Mikael Wiehe to write my own songs,” said Afzelius (1947-1999). He was “a man full of contradictions: a singer of protest songs but also of sentimental ballads – a political activist who was also an incurable romantic”, according to the directors.
After playing with the Hoola Bandoola Band, Afzelius released his first solo album (of 24) in 1974; while he donated vast sums of money to revolutionary movements in Latin America, he was also a family father as well as a notorious womaniser. Having sold over 2.5 million albums, he died from lung cancer in 1999.
Scripted by Gertten, Berg and Jesper Osmund, and produced by Gertten and Lennart Ström for Auto Images, A Thousand Pieces portrays Afzelius’ life and career, guided by, among others, Swedish musician Mikael Wiehe – with whom Afzelius started Hoola Bandoola – and artist Marianne Lindberg De Geer, twice his life partner.
Afzelius was one of Scandinavia’s greatest artists, a passionate idealist and a very private person who let his music express what he could not say himself. “His audience was not the cultural elite, but the working classes, the unemployed people – there he was huge, if not with the critics,” Gertten and Berg concluded.