A few months ago, the legendary film director Ingmar Bergman’s possessions were sold to the highest bidder by the Swedish auction house Bukowskis. The auction attracted enormous interest, raising €1.8m – a decent sum for a collection of heavily used furniture. The attraction lay, of course, in Bergman and not the furniture, whose appeal stretches far beyond such earthly possessions.
Swedish filmmakers, who once struggled to free themselves from the master’s shadow, have started to look again for inspiration in his work. Swedish film has rediscovered its seriousness, weight and personality – qualities often connected with Bergman, but which have been lacking in the country’s cinema during the past two decades. And this autumn Swedish cinemagoers have been offered something very different to the normal domestic crime dramas and feel-good comedies they are used to seeing on the big screen.
Tomorrow (18 November) marks the beginning of the 20th Stockholm film festival that will be a chance to celebrate not only two decades of this growing event but also this new wave of Swedish film. To be fair, the biggest box office hit of the year is still a crime thriller, albeit a good one – Men Who Hate Women, based on the hugely successful novel by Stieg Larsson. But smaller, more challenging films are also cutting through. Jesper Ganslandt has shocked audiences with Apan (The Ape), a gripping, close-up study of a man coming to terms with a violent family tragedy – that he has caused – and which takes place over a single day. It features little dialogue and a lot of anguish. Cinematographer/director Fredrik Wenzel has charmed critics with his poetic depiction of life in a small Swedish town in Man tänker sitt (One thinks of One’s Own). Documentaries are also having a momentum: Erik Gandini’s Videocracy, a critical look at media in Berlusconi’s Italy, was one of the most talked-about films at the Venice Film Festival this year.
Sweden has taken Denmark’s place as the most interesting film country in Scandinavia, and the Swedes have responded: from January to September this year, domestic films represented 30.6 per cent of all tickets sold in Swedish cinemas, up from 16.2 per cent on last year.
Domestic film is seeing a revival in neighbouring countries as well. In Denmark, it reached a market share of 30 per cent in 2008 – the highest figure since 1978. In Finland, domestic market share was 23 per cent, the best result in nine years, while in Norway, the figure rose to a record 22 per cent. Even though the smallest, most challenging films aren’t always hits at the box office, it’s obvious that Nordic filmgoers appreciate quality and above all, a variety of output.
Many of the new films are made on small budgets by a new generation of ambitious filmmakers coming from unexpected backgrounds. Increasingly, they have not gone to the finest film schools or had support from local film institutes. In fact, the producer of another Swedish film this autumn, Flickan (The Girl), an existential drama about a 10-year-old girl spending her first summer without her parents, is Acne – better known for its fashionable jeans than philosophical thoughts.
So, while at first glance, Acne’s jeans and Bergman’s Winter Light would seem to have little in common, the opposite is the case. In fact, those jeans may soon be hanging in Bergman’s closet on the island of Fårö. Most of his possessions were acquired by the Norwegian billionaire Hans Gude Gudesen, and together with Bergman’s daughter Linn Ullmann, he is planning to turn the director’s house into an artists’ retreat. Sitting in Bergman’s black Eames lounge chair, feeling his gaze over their shoulder, filmmakers will now be able to work on their storylines. Ironically, there could be a happy ending for Swedish cinema.