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Moodysson: Following in the Footsteps of Bergman?

One could argue that the trajectory of Ingmar Bergman’s career has been characterised by the deliberate defiance of expectation at pivotal moments – an impetus, perhaps, for continued creative renewal and a desire to circumvent categorisation. Upon receiving rapturous praise by Jean-Luc Godard (1974), for example, for the wild, free-flowing and improvisational-like qualities of Summer with Monika (1953), Bergman delivered something of a misanthropic sucker-punch with follow-up film:Sawdust and Tinsel (1953). Rejecting the youthful idealism of the former film, Sawdust and Tinsel is instead a more meticulous and ‘unflinching examination of the human condition’ (Stone, n.d.). Similarly, when Bergman came to be associated predominantly with ruminations upon death and existentialism, as featured prominently throughout both The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries(1957), he chose to eschew this reputation and instead examine the essentiality of art as an illusory medium, yet one capable of exposing substantial human truths. To this end, The Magician (1958) constituted a major new era for Bergman’s cinema), paving the way for perhaps his most experimental work, Persona (1966), which would go further still in exploring the nature of representation in cinematic narrative. It could easily be argued that this endeavour to constantly reinvent oneself artistically and pursue novel creative challenges is not only the hallmark of a great artist, but is a necessary prerequisite for the kind of lengthy and decorated career that Bergman enjoyed.

Whilst not considering Bergman to be a primary source of inspiration, Lukas Moodysson nonetheless acknowledged his ‘formidable presence’ as an inescapable and perhaps unconscious influence. Despite showing greater concern for the socio-political than for the metaphysical, Moodysson has been hailed as ‘Sweden’s most praised filmmaker since Ingmar Bergman’ and has thus far demonstrated a comparable propensity for creative risk-taking. After building his directorial reputation largely as a purveyor of social realism – in the process, ironically, being heralded as a ‘young master’ by Bergman himself, Moodysson made something of a stylistic U-turn. Following up the acclaimed neo-realism ofLilya-4-Ever (2002), Moodysson produced the infamous and highly experimental A Hole in My Heart (2004) – a film that had ostensibly had little in common with its predecessor and contained highly explicit visuals throughout. Whilst somewhat divisive with respect to critical opinion, Moodysson won praise regardless for his bold, daring approach, displaying a willingness to court controversy comparable to that of his Scandinavian compatriot, Lars Von Trier. His next film, Container (2006), would again break new territory, stripping away cinematic convention with reckless abandon and leaving only a stark, enigmatic and haunting monologue accompanied by tenuously related visuals. Subversive, ‘imperfect and nonsensical’, the unabashed experimentalism of Container (2006) nonetheless won acclaim for its inventiveness and visual style. 

By contrast, Moodysson’s two most recent works, Mammoth (2009) and We Are The Best! (2013) constitute something of a return to his earlier cinematic style, characterised in part by much more typical narrative structure. Yet, even Moodysson’s latest film retains what has thus far been a unifying theme of his cinematographic trajectory: a focus upon lonely and somehow marginalised protagonists, existing, to varying degrees, outside of mainstream society. Similarly to Bergman, Moodysson has developed an idiosyncratic modus operandi, recognisable across a plethora of differing formats and visual styles. Through his cumulative cinematic output, Moodysson has demonstrated the same desire to push boundaries -both his own and those of his audience – as Bergman did before him. In a recent interview, Moodysson spoke of an expression coined by his wife: ‘light brown’, denoting a colour that’s ‘not really something… sort of average’. Promisingly, his catalogue suggests a healthy aversion to ‘light brown’ – a willingness to be adventurous and risk spectacular failure rather than be content with mediocrity. It is to this mentality that Moodysson owes his reputation as a worthy successor to Ingmar Bergman, and his continued status one of the most promising contemporary directors, not just in Scandinavia, but globally.

References:

Bergman, I. (Director). (1953). Summer with Monika [Motion picture]. Sweden: Svensk Filmindustri.

Bergman, I. (Director). (1953). Sawdust and Tinsel [Motion picture]. Sweden: Svensk Filmindustri.

Bergman, I. (Director). (1957). The Seventh Seal [Motion picture]. Sweden: Svensk Filmindustri.

Bergman, I. (Director). (1957). Wild Strawberries [Motion picture]. Sweden: Svensk Filmindustri.

Bergman, I. (Director). (1958). The Magician [Motion picture]. Sweden: Svensk Filmindustri.

Bergman, I. (Director). (1966). Persona [Motion picture]. Sweden: Svensk Filmindustri.

De Marco, C. (2002, August, 30). Lukas Moodysson. Retrieved July 23, 2014, from http://cineuropa.org/it.aspx?t=interview&documentID=1106.

Felperin, L. (2006, February, 11). Review: ‘Container’. Retrieved July 23, 2014, from http://variety.com/2006/film/reviews/container-1200518571/.

Godard, J. L. (2007). Ingman Berman. Bergmanorama. Cahiers du cinema España, (4), 106-110.

Janson, M. (2004, September, 17). Gastkramande om nutiden. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://www.svd.se/kultur/film/gastkramande-om-nutiden_23477.svd.

Kehr, D. (2003, April, 18). At The Movies. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/18/movies/at-the-movies.html.

Lucca, V. (2014, May, 28). Interview: Lukas Moodysson. Retrieved July 23, 2014, from http://www.filmcomment.com/entry/interview-lukas-moodysson.

Macnab, G. (2009). Ingmar Bergman: The Life and Films of the Last Great European Director. London: IB Tauris.

Mandelbaum, J. (2011). Masters of cinema: Ingmar Bergman. London: Phaidon Press.

Moodysson, L. (Director). (2002). Lilya-4-Ever. [Motion picture]. Sweden: Sonet Film.

Moodysson, L. (Director). (2004). A Hole in My Heart. [Motion picture]. Sweden: Sonet Film.

Moodysson, L. (Director). (2006). Container. [Motion picture]. Sweden: Sonet Film.

Moodysson, L. (Director). (2009). Mammoth. [Motion picture]. Sweden: Sonet Film.

Moodysson, L. (Director). (2013). We Are The Best! [Motion picture]. Sweden: Svensk Filmindustri.

Stone, L. (n.d.). Sawdust and Tinsel (1953). Retrieved July 23, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/movies/movie/66118/Sawdust-and-Tinsel/overview.

van Hoeij, B. (2006). Review: Container. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from http://european-films.net/content/view/123/5/.

CategoriesFeatures Issue 5
Tim Metcalfe

Tim Metcalfe is a MA Psychology of Music student and prospective PhD student (investigating auditory emotion perception in cochlear implant users). He has a passion for both classic and contemporary Scandinavian and Eastern-European cinema. Recently completed an online course in Scandinavian film and television, offered by The University of Copenhagen.