Home Issue 8 Book Reviews: March 2015

Book Reviews: March 2015

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Swedish Film: An Introduction and Reader includes an edited collection of articles encompassing a domestic, socio-cultural examination of Swedish cinematic production against the backdrop of its shifting policies, often situating this aspect within the coordinates of its institutional practices. Although greatly varied, the book consolidates a diverse set of topics into a discursive anthology, through which each chapter establishes and appropriates clear contextual outlines for each subject. Through this method, the history of Swedish cinema is framed as symbiotic to its socio-political climates of production. It highlights aspects such as genre; the politics of immigration and transnational considerations as lying at the forefront of Sweden’s cinematic achievements. Swedish Film: An Introduction and Reader also reinforces cinema as a product of interdisciplinary dynamics, encompassing a mosaic of transitory cultural and political forces.

The scope of the book spans from Sweden’s inaugural cinematic features to contemporary works. This merging of Sweden’s historical film landscape not only fosters a contextual summary for the understanding of contemporary Swedish cinema, but allows the reader to confront the correlations between these productions and their cinematic predecessors. In tandem with these aspects, Swedish Film traverses the tectonic shifting cultural tapestry of Swedish culture as it filtered through the onset of the digital age in addition, as aforementioned, to broaching contemporary subjects such as immigration in Rochelle Wright’s chapter ‘Immigrant Film’ in Sweden at the Millennium. The book also includes residual Swedish director Roy Andersson’s essay The Complex Image alluding to a filmmaker’s philosophical perspective on both the process of filmmaking and the conceptual rendering of social narrative-scapes.

The infrastructure of the book as a chronology of Swedish cinematic history consists of short chapters, each adequately consolidating the area of expertise each author harnesses. One of the most interesting facets of the book, as stipulated in its introduction, is the way the editors chose to forgo a discussion on Ingmar Bergman. Although it may appear unorthodox to forfeit a Swedish auteur often revered as one of the most significant figures in the history of the moving image, Larsson and Marklund instead establish a context to Swedish cinema, one which the wealth of texts on Bergman’s work may be discussed against, creating a dialogue through which his filmic ancestry may be traced. Altogether, it provides an insightful and historically significant piece of work for anyone with a vested interest in Swedish, Nordic and European film production and cultural policy, supplementing a significant fissure in the Anglophone literature encompassing these disciplines.

Nordic Film Classics Series

Overview

The premise of the Nordic Film Classics series seeks to showcase the cinematic achievements of the Nordic countries, projecting a diverse series of films towards a global film reader. The scope extends into a series of monographs on several prominent Nordic texts. Although the collection harnesses the same fundamental objective, each individual text deploys a different method for unpacking each case study.

A shared sentiment within each of the Nordic Film Classics editions is the focus on film production as a collaborative effort. The series thus negotiates the nodes of Nordic film production through exploring various meta-filmic devices. This context of collaboration is particularly significant given the small nations these films emanate from. This inclusive aspect allows each author to vocalize the perspectives of a diverse set of film practitioners from small nations, appraising both the restrictions and freedoms such a status brings for the people behind the works themselves.

 

Dagur Kári’s Nói the Albino, Björn Norðfjörð (2010)

Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 165 pp.,

ISBN: 9788763531603, Paperback, £23.50

Book review by Kate Moffat

 

Icelandic director Dagur Kári’s Nói the Albino (2003) charts the life of a transgressive Icelandic teenager, suffocated by the banality of his hermetic surroundings. Through a consummate engagement with the films’ visual motifs, Björn Norðfjörð’s monograph on Nói the Albino is suffused with both the discourses of Iceland’s physical and metaphysical terrain. He utilizes the country’s geographical coordinates, drawing from and emphasizing its position on the fringes of Europe whilst convincingly establishing a case for its transnational dimensions. His concise chapters examine both textual semantic indicators within the mise-en-scène and scrutinize them against the historical context of Icelandic cinema. The holistic focus of the book captures both the brevity of Nói the Albino’s historical filmic milieu whilst it simultaneously reinforces the cathartic power of its existentialist mantra. In turn, this dual aspect underscores the significance of small national cinemas, both in terms of their impact and reception beyond the borders of their production together with how they manifest their symbiotic and self-reflexive relationships with the dynamics of the transnational. Norðfjörð explicates the compounding notions of the regional, national and global, assimilating the way in which these thresholds are defined culturally and geographically. Ultimately, Norðfjörð engenders the dualities at work within Nói the Albino, as it behaves simultaneously as a film that is both inherently Icelandic and universally engaging.

Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence, Maaret Koskinen (2010)

Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 208 pp.,

ISBN: 9788763531597, Paperback, £23.50

Book review by Kate Moffat

The Silence (1963) was confronted by a barrage of criticism over its depiction of sexuality upon its release, violating many of the censorship principles of the Swedish and American film boards in the 1960s. Bergman’s narrative maps a tale of sexual jealousy and psychological distain between two sisters, one of whom is afflicted by a debilitating illness. Accompanied by the young son of one of the sisters, the estranged family embark on a trip to a fictitious European country on the precipice of war. Bergman’s work is discussed in relation to how it established an international barometer for Sweden’s cultural cinematic canon. Koskinen, however, fosters a dialogue on Bergman that dislocates him and his films from this auteurist lionisation that has come to characterize his oeuvre in its entirety. By forfeiting these often inscribed views projected onto Bergman throughout his career, Koskinen allows for a fresh perspective on his cinema, and particularly the significance of his 1963 production The Silence, a text often overlooked in favour of the residual Persona (1966). Koskinen synergizes a discussion of The Silence not only in terms of its temporal, socio-political relevance, but as a self-reflexive commentary on censorship itself.

Lone Scherfig’s Italian for Beginners, Mette Hjort (2010)

Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 277 pp.,

ISBN: 9788763534833, Paperback, £23.50

Book review by Kate Moffat

 

In Scherfig’s film, three men and three women embark on Italian lessons in a small Danish village as a means of eluding their acutely lonely and unhappy lives. After their teacher suffers a heart attack, the group unite in solidarity to continue the class. Hjort’s book imbues Scherfig’s film and the Dogme movement with a new depth, evaluating both the Dogme manifesto’s strengths and limitations. Hjort’s investment in Italian for Beginners surpasses much of the initial dismissal the film faced by critics upon its release. She explores the cathartic qualities of the film as part of a moral framework, one that builds on friendship and hope amongst the maligned. Hjort also reinforces Scherfig’s contribution to Dogme as the first female director to deploy and negotiate the many challenging edifices the manifesto presents. In doing so, Hjort underscores how Scherfig achieves a great sense of profundity through these means and elevates the status of Italian for Beginners in the process.

Lukas Moodysson’s Show Me Love, Anna Westerståhl Stenport (2012)

Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 224 pp.,

ISBN: 9788763538817, Paperback, £23.50

 

Show Me Love (1998), also credited as Fucking Åmål, offers us an emancipatory desire, both physically and metaphorically from the stifling geography of a small Swedish town and the ideological constraints of contemporary social hegemonies. Stenport chronicles Moodsson’s infatuation with garnering an adolescent perspective within his films, especially in relation to his aspiration towards authenticity in this tale of tentative love between two Swedish schoolgirls. As with the other books in the series, Stenport includes interviews with practitioners associated with Moodysson’s films. This exegesis also critically evaluates Moodysson’s authorial dichotomy, producing films inflected with the social-cultural contentions of their period of production, often problematically conflating questions of ontology and the divine whilst also engaging with a broad spectrum of differing aesthetic film forms. Much of Moodysson’s work, as Stenport highlights, is derived from a staunch retaliation against dominant hegemonic practices. Stenport, however, also draws attention to how Moodysson denounces many aspects of globalizing transnational forces. She also examines Moodysson’s wider significance as part of the New Queer Cinema movement in the 1990s. Above all, she offers a critical overview of Moodysson’s social and ideological commentary including his esoteric position in relation to the portrayal of a Swedish national identity onscreen.

Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (The Celebration), C. Claire Thomson (2013)

Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 232 pp.,

ISBN: 9788763541138, Paperback, £23.50

Claire Thomson’s Festen (The Celebration) monograph explores the complex and often paradoxical allegories suffused within both Vinterberg’s film and the wider Dogme movement. The book relays the significance of Festen as Dogme’s inaugural production released in 1998.Thomson’s writing also gives us a deeply personal account of Festen’s emotive resonance. The Dogme film so close to Thomson’s heart is situated around the birthday gathering of a wealthy patriarch in Denmark. The event is marred, however, by the return of his youngest son Christian who arrives to deliver a candid speech detailing, for the first time, the depraved abuse he and his recently deceased sister suffered at his hands as young children. The real merits of this book stem from these impassioned articulations of the author, surpassing the objective distance usually reserved for conversing within academic texts. It is this pathos that allows the film a greater degree of accessibility. She facilitates a discussion of Festen as a concept, one that has transposed into many forms, including numerous stage adaptations. She also comprises a detailed account of the Dogme tenets, particularly in relation to the practicalities of its technological application. Thomson cements Dogme’s relationship with spatial and temporal aspects of filmmaking. Vetoing the post-productive engineering that defines most film texts, she discusses Festen in relation to Dogme’s aspirations; to capture an unmanipulated truth. This extends into a dialogue that encompasses the nature of ‘history’ and ‘story’ in addition to the complex tapestry of meaning the film builds around the notion of Danish national identity.