Category Archives: Imaginary Swedish Cinema

#202 – Song for Bibi

(1978, Swe, 97 min) Dir Lasse Hallström. Cast Viveka Vong, Liv Ullmann, Molly Gold.

After the success of ABBA: The Movie and before his ascension to the height of mild-mannered Hollywood prestige, Lasse Hallström was commissioned to make this, the official Eurovision film. Then unknown and now forgotten singer-songwriter Viveka Vong plays herself, a simple country girl whose only dream is to sing her songs of love and peace to as wide a world as she can. Luckily for Vong former Eurovision champions ABBA hear her song when passing through town between gigs and before she can say Boom Bang-a-Bang she’s on national television competing to be that year’s entry. Needless to say she goes through to the main event and I don’t think that I’m spoiling anyone’s fun when I reveal that she ends the film triumphant despite the best efforts of her Irish rival Erin O’Eire (Gold). Song for Bibi was a minor hit in the day but for reasons unknown it’s been mostly forgotten and is all but erased from Eurovision history. This is a shame as it’s as much campy fun as you would expect and production’s pretty high-end too – enough money has been flung at it for Liv Ullmann to have been roped in as Vong’s voice coach, her Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist hired as cinematographer and the “Swedish Edith Head” Elsa Nöggin employed for the fantastically bonkers costumes.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms


#126 – Färska Hallon (Fresh Raspberries)

(1963, Swe, 75 min) Dir Isak Borg. Cast Isak Borg, Berit Alman, Henrik Åkerman, Charlotta Borg.

By the time the early sixties had swung by Isak Borg should have been a happy man. Of the three films that he had so far written, produced, directed and starred in all three were slapstick comedy classics that had broken the box office in his native Sweden. Isak Borg, however, wasn’t a happy man. A legendarily paranoid and depressive man, he had grown to resent more and more the influence of his fellow countryman Ingmar Bergman who was taken so very seriously while Borg was scorned by critics, festivals and awards ceremonies alike. Thankfully that curse that had struck so many before him had not struck him – he had no desire to be taken seriously. No, he didn’t want to go to the critics, he wanted the critics to come to him. Hence Fresh Raspberries – surely a spoof of Bergman’s films would puncture their pomposity, reveal to the world at large the ridiculousness of the man’s self-seriousness? Alas, it did not work. Borg’s film of a clumsy priest’s spasms of doubt being met by increasingly absurd interruptions – starting with long forgotten uncles, graduating to a troupe of mean-spirited clowns and finishing with a wise talking death – was coldly received by not just the critics but by audiences too, evidently alienated by his previous film’s good cheer having curdled so badly. Within the year the beaten Borg was back to basics with Accidental Postman Grun.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#57 – Svalbard

(1985, Swe, 100 min) Dir Tomas Kinnaman. Cast Stefan Gustaf, Harald Solberg.
Another animal-centric film from Kinnaman, following the international success of When I Was Born a Canary with this similarly contemplative but more expansive film. Mild mannered Peder travels to Svalbard to study the seabirds there (his favourite being the long tailed skua) and staying at the Norwegian station. Much of the film is without dialogue, following the characters as they traverse the vast empty spaces of the island – if you get the opportunity to see this on a cinema screen you should jump at it just for the landscapes. There’s a particularly deadpan Scandinavian sense of humour at play here too – you can see it in the way the camera pans from the flocks of birds on the beach to the gathered scientists watching them, huddled together in the brightly coloured jackets that identify them by the country they’re from, Peder in his yellow Swedish jacket by himself on the edge of the frame. The drama of the film is handled in a similarly removed fashion. While on their way back to the station in the coming night Peder and his Norwegian friend Ole are attacked by a bear. There’s nothing heightened in the moment, no music or close up or anything like that – you can see the bear coming from the distance and Peder readying his gun. He shoots it, it falls to the ground and that’s it. You can’t see nature loving Peder’s face in the scene as he’s facing away from the camera but Ole can and his placing his gloved hand briefly on his friend’s arm speaks volumes.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#7 – När jag föddes en Canary (When I was born a Canary)

(1983, Swe, 69 min) Dir Tomas Kinnaman.

The heart-tugging tale of the life of a canary as narrated, in a droll and deadpan voiceover, by said canary as he passes his life from one cage to another, ruminating on his circumstances as they occur and on the meaning of life in general. He is born in a pet shop, lives in the apartment of an arguing couple (and their interested cat) before moving to the country as the pet of a young girl who names him Nils and sets him free. He comes back, of course, after a night among the branches of a tree when he finds out exactly how big the world outside his cage is and how small he is in it. By the last moments, after Nils has been found dead at the bottom of his cage and his voice is gone from the soundtrack, when he is buried in a little box in the back garden by the weeping child – if anyone isn’t crying themselves at that point then they have no emotions and are possibly an alien.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms