I know these kind of lists are getting old really fast, but I thought that by narrowing my scope to the cultural output of my own largely irrelevant little country I might find myself with something vaguely original. Despite being a puny little nation with a meager 9,6 million inhabitants we have produced some films that I think people might appreciate, but might not have heard of before now.
I’ll try to avoid wasting your time with movies that are wildly popular or widely known outside of Sweden and instead focus on relatively recent movies that didn’t really make a significant impact outside our borders. They are probably known to most swedes, however.
I’m starting off with two movies by the same director and comedy troupe, simply because they’re two of the greatest films ever made. I considered leaving one of them out, but I just couldn’t decide which of them to leave out, so I decided to just use both of them, despite the lack of variety that might cause.
1. Fyra Nyanser av Brunt (Four Shades of Brown) – 2004
Fyra Nyanser av Brunt is a strange, disjointed film by director Tomas Alfredsson and a comedy troupe called Killinggänget. It is comprised of four different stories and the connection between those stories isn’t immediately obvious, even at the very end of the movie. The tone of the movie is hard to describe, but the best genre term to describe it would probably be “darkly comedic drama” or something along those lines. It has a deliberately awkward emotional tone and while there are moments of laugh-out-loud funniness, the humour is mostly found in the everyday situations that are juxtapositioned with some truly bizarre and/or dark events. But every laugh or smile that the movie produces is tinged with chagrin. One of the creators of the movie actually said that “you pay for every laugh with a small piece of your soul” which I think is spot on. This is a very swedish movie, both in its humour and in its drama.
2. Torsk på Tallinn – En liten film om ensamhet (Screwed in Tallinn – A small film about loneliness) – 1999
This is an earlier effort from the Tomas Alfredsson and Killingänget (who made Fyra Nyanser Av Brunt, see above), but it’s just as good. This mockumentary-style movie chronicles the shoddily arranged (by the hilariously sleazy and incompetent Percy Nilegård) journey to the Estonian city of Tallinn, where a busload of lonely and rather pathetic swedish men intends to find love and companionship at what is essentially a post-order bride event.
Now, I described these men as “pathetic”, which many of them are, but I didn’t really mean it in a wholly disparaging way. Not all of the guys are assholes, some of them are just genuinely socially inept and think this sad affair is their chance to find love. In a way, many of the main characters are like stereotypes of the various aspects of the male psyche. This movie has a greater focus on comedy than Fyra Nyanser Av Brunt, but the humour is still mired in awkwardness and squalid human despair. The brilliance of Killinggänget and Tomas Alfredson is that they manage to merge the comedy with the dark humanity almost seamlessly.
IMDb link: Torsk på Tallinn
No Amazon link at all for this one, I’m afraid. I can’t seem to find it for purchase anywhere outside of Sweden.
3. Jägarna (The Hunters) – 1996
The Hunters is a rare thing: a good swedish thriller. It’s written and directed by Kjell Sundvall (of Martin Beck “fame”) and stars Rolf Lassgård as a police detective that returns to his small, rural home town in the far north of Sweden after having lived in Stockholm for many years. He reconnects with his brother and eventually starts investigating the extensive poaching that has been going in in the area for a long time. This sounds pretty dull, doesn’t it? Believe me, it isn’t. This is a very intense movie, driven by a myriad of interesting and often unpleasant characters. Imagine a gritty cop thriller, add a dash of Deliverance and a pinch of Insomnia for good measure.
4. Den Enfaldige Mördaren (The Simple-Minded Murderer) – 1982
This is one of my favourite swedish movies of all time, directed by the esteemed Hans Alfredson (incidentally, the father of Tomas Alfredson, the director of Fyra Nyanser av Brunt, Torsk på Tallin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let The Right One In, among others) and starring a young Stellan Skarsgård. It tells the tale of Sven, a young man with a speech impediment, which in the 1930’s pretty much meant that people thought he were mentally challenged.
His master (or rather “husbonde”, an old swedish term denoting the owner/master/employer of a house or estate), factory owner John Höglund, played brilliantly by Hans Alfredson himself, treats Sven very badly, showering him with both verbal and physical abuse. Sven takes solace in obsessively reading the bible, which as the torment at the hands of his master intensifies, slowly starts break down Sven’s sanity and finally culminates in him starting get vision of angels. The angels tell him to take revenge, leading to one of the most remarkable imagery of modern swedish cinema, as you can see below.
5. Salmer fra kjøkkenet (Kitchen Stories) – 2003
I already reviewed this movie here on the site some years ago, so I recommend that you read the review here. This movie is norwegian as well as swedish, so there’s two weird languages for all you foreigners to struggle with. It’s well worth the effort, however. It is a film by Bent Hamer about the daunting project by Hemmets Forskningsinstitut (The Home Research Institute) to scientifically study the domestic habits of the single male. It’s a bewildering concept that has it’s basis in the very swedish tendency to want to quantify everything. Essentially, it’s a film about loneliness and friendship. It manages to be touching without straying into sentimentality.