Popular series like The Bridge and Wallander showcase the darker side of Swedish television, but what about film? Robert Knight reviews two: The Seventh Seal (1957) and Let the Right One In (2008)
Ingrid Bergman as Stephanie Dickinson, Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight and Dolph Lungren as He-Man. Hollywood’s representation and appropriation of Sweden has often been of beauty and light but delve a little deeper and you’ll find the recent success of Millenium trilogy (The Girl with… films) and macabre TV series The Bridge have a deep-seated root in Swedish cinema’s history of gloom.
Here are two films spanning the decades that showcase the dark arts of Swedish cinema…
The Seventh Seal (1957) see main image
The Seventh Seal is a bleak artistic telling of a medieval knight’s journey back from war to find his land ravaged by the plague. Upon his return he meets Death and the now classic image of the two engaged in a game of chess – parodied in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure – was born out of Bergman’s vision of man battling his own mortality. But more than anything, this medieval allegory challenges the idea of a world with a silent God. A heavy theme, for sure, but even in the darkness of the content, the film’s beauty shines through with the use of expansive Swedish landscapes.
The film won the special jury prize at the Cannes Film festival and made stars of Bergman and leading actor Max Von Sydow. Bergman would go on to win three foreign language Oscars for Swedish film but The Seventh Seal remains his magnum opus.
As daunting as a black and white, subtitled film dealing with a crisis of faith can seem, Bergman’s direction and an hour-and-a-half run time makes this an easy tick for nearly every ‘watch before you die’ list you’ll read.
Let the Right One In (2008)
This is a vampire movie but it’s not a vampire movie. However, it is a horror film – but don’t be afraid, the story outside of the undead’s thirst for blood is relatable to anyone who’s been an outsider on the cusp of adolescence.
You may not think of grey apartment blocks in urban areas of Stockholm when you think of Sweden but bitingly (don’t excuse the pun) cold winters make this as lonely a setting as the rolling landscapes in The Seventh Seal.
Set in 1982, resident of the aforementioned apartment block Oskar has to deal with being bullied at school and living with a distant single mother at home. Lonely nights are spent imagining what it would be like to kill his tormentors until he strikes up an unusual friendship with Eli, a young girl who moves in next door. After a series of grisly murders appear around the small town, Oskar realises that sunlight-hating Eli is in fact a vampire. Far from scaring him off, Oskar embraces Eli as a fellow outsider and he is repaid by her dealing out the harshest of punishment to his tormentors.
Due to the international success of the film, the wholly unneeded Hollywood remake was rolled out almost instantly but experience it in its native tongue to get the genuine Swedish experience.