Swedish Love Story (1970), Roy Andersson’s feature film debut, depicts a burgeoning romance between two teenage lovers who exist in a state of protected innocence and are yet to experience the disillusionment of adulthood. The film culminates in a scene that foreshadows much of Andersson’s later work, in which a bitter refrigerator salesman, John, wanders away from a family gathering and into a desolate wilderness, declaring defiantly “I’ve wasted 45 years of my life“. Anton Bitel (2011) has characterised A Swedish Love Story as juxtaposing the hermetic and idyllic romance between two young teens against a world of “very adult misery, to which they remain so oblivious“. As John ventures deeper into the stark woodland, this “adult misery” is encapsulated neatly by the bleak and barren landscape, which serves to reinforce his utter disillusionment with humanity. Simultaneously, the landscape that John inhabits appears to be completely removed from the society that he decries, yet fittingly captures his sense of confusion and isolation. Not only does he appear ‘lost’ in an existential sense, he is also very probably lost in the geographic sense owing to the dense atmospheric fog that hangs in the air around him. At once, Andersson depicts a longed-for escape and an uneasy sense of total disorientation.
In a sense, the landscape might be considered as a cynical allegory of contemporary society as seen through John’s eyes: an abyssal nothingness, devoid of meaning, in which he is condemned to wander purposelessly. As John’s resentment intensifies, a sharp contrast is apparent with both the soporific soundtrack and Andersson’s muted palette, the latter predominantly consisting of shades of blue. This tempts one to consider John’s departure as existential escapism – the tranquil landscape ostensibly constitutes a sense of emancipation, however John incontrovertibly remains lost, and it becomes clear that his newfound ‘freedom’ from society is only superficial.
A Swedish Love Story‘s closing scene, which would set the tone for Andersson’s later films, is highly reminiscent of the Czechoslovak new wave movement – in particular, Jan Němec’s A Report on The Party and The Guests (1966). In Němec’s film, a group of bourgeois picnickers are accosted by a cruel and manipulative ‘authority figure’ en route to a surreal outdoor banquet, in what appears to be a direct critique of communist governance (Brooke, 2007). As in A Swedish Love Story, Němec’s use of landscape represents a tangible yet unattainable freedom. In this case, a pastoral and utopian lifestyle is depicted, in which the picnickers relax carefree in a sun-speckled meadow and bathe nearby in a gently-flowing river. Pfeifer (2013) argues that this scene may deliberately resemble the kind of socialist-realist iconography favoured by the then-communist government, and thus the landscape is emblematic of a intentionally romanticised lifestyle rather than being an accurate depiction of reality. Once again, arguably the primary function of landscape here is to establish a contrast with its inhabitants: the untouched and cheerful environment forming an ironic backdrop to the totalitarian vignette in which the ‘guests’ are embroiled. It is also possible that the landscape serves to deliberately accentuate the naïve, happy-go-lucky complacency that would ultimately prove detrimental to the guests’ freedom. This unbridled sense of optimism, conveyed by the environment and the characters’ interactions with it, may be symbolic of initial public support for communism in Czechoslovakia, while the eventual ‘party’ scene demonstrates the cruel irony of this.
The end of the film bears a strong resemblance to A Swedish Love Story‘s final scene, and was likely a direct source of inspiration for Andersson. One character is noticed to have ‘escaped’ from the party and so the remaining guests venture into the dense woodland in pursuit. In both films the characters are similarly motivated by feelings of isolation and a desire for autonomy. In each case, however, the landscape merely denotes an ‘illusion’ of freedom, a false refuge in which the protagonists are powerless to society’s net closing around them – the seemingly innocuous settings becoming more ominous as this becomes apparent. Though Andersson’s film is more generally critical of contemporary society (and perhaps the human condition), while Němec’s film is a more narrowly focussed political satire, landscape in both films acts, perhaps paradoxically, as both a metaphor for and an alternative to prevailing society. In each film, the landscape both reinforces the attitudes of its inhabitants, and also connotes a romanticised ideal: an escape route that turns out to be nothing more than a dead end.
Andersson, R. (Director). (1970). A Swedish Love Story [Motion picture]. Sweden: AB Europa Film.
Bitel, A. (2011, March 24). A Swedish Love Story. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from http://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/review/a-swedish-love-story-film-review-by-anton-bitel.
Brooke, M. (2007, May 8). Show and Tell: A Report on The Party and the Guests. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from http://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/vertigo_magazine/volume-3-issue-5-spring-2007/show-and-tell-a-report-on-the-party-and-the-guests/.
Němec, J. (1966). A Report on The Party and The Guests [Motion picture]. Czechoslovakia: Sigma III.
Pfeifer, M. (2013, April 1). Lessons of Freedom: 1965-1966. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from http://eefb.org/archive/april-2013/a-report-on-the-party-and-the-guests/.