Dispatch from Sweden, Part One

by robbiefreeling
June 30, 2008 11:28 AM
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A scene from Ruben Östlund's Involuntary.

How to get rid of the ghost that you want to keep close? It's been more than twenty-five years now since Ingmar Bergman was regularly making feature films, but the master's mammoth shadow looms over the national cinema with undiminished dominance, and indeed most of European art cinema in general; meanwhile it's just one year after his death, at age 89, and Swedish cinema is still struggling with the legacy of this fearsomely popular and canonized auteur. Despite the domestic success of homegrown films such as Kay Pollack's As It Is in Heaven and Mikael Hafstrom's Evil, and the ever-growing international reputations of festival-circuit favorites Roy Andersson and Lukas Moodysson (not to mention the imminent international release of Tomas Alfredson's already widely acclaimed, and Tribeca-feted Let the Right One In), Swedish cinema longs to crawl out from under the shadow of Bergman, even as it cannot afford to forget him.

Although American viewers only get the slightest sampling of Swedish films in any given year (other than Bergman's final film, Saraband, U.S.-distributed releases from Sweden in the past five years included those by the increasingly difficult and militantly confrontational Moodysson, Hafstrom's film, and not much else), the industry is chugging along steadily, even if attendance for its own films has been on a downslide. (And in a search for stability, only twenty-nine films were made in 2007—as opposed to more than forty between 2005 and 2006—after too many production companies were trying to survive in Sweden at once.) Of course it goes without saying that the grant-based and state-sponsored Swedish Film Institute, which, founded in 1963, proudly touts itself as the world's first film archive, and which today produces, promotes, and preserves its country's cinema, needs to think about the future even more than the past, especially with Bergman's passing.

The international journalists' film program assembled this year by the Swedish Institute, a public agency promoting the exportation of their country's national culture, in conjunction with both the Swedish Film Institute and the organizers of the fifth annual Bergman Week festival, is a journey that exemplifies and clarifies this schism. Before embarking on the festival itself, held once again at Bergman's longtime home and current resting place, Fårö Island, we were treated in Stockholm to a mini-festival of contemporary Swedish films, which provided a fascinating cross-section of the nation's cinematic output, shining a light on concerns both artistic and commercial, traditional and progressive.

Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky's coverage of contemporary Swedish cinema. Coming soon: Bergman Week on Fårö Island.

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