The past decade’s influx of immigrants into Scandinavia from parts south is inspiring a global post-post-Bergman Swedish cinema. This series of films by young or emerging directors features a host of warm comedies and bittersweet ironic dramas that illuminate a changing society where traditional notions of tolerance are challenged by the 9 percent of its population now of non-Nordic origin.
One highlight, The New Country, a four-hour TV miniseries directed by Geir Hansteen Jorgensen and scripted by Lukas Moodysson with Peter Birro, is a darkly funny drama that follows a pair of illegal refugees on the lam. Ali (Mike Almayehu), an effervescent 15-year-old Somalian runner, is in love with his adopted homeland (though it has yet to adopt him); but his pathological optimism shatters at night, when he dreams of his massacred family in Africa. Massoud (Michalis Koutsogiannakis), an embittered, fortyish Iranian, fled political persecution at home, but rails against both Sweden’s food and its “fascists.” Filmed in a rough, Dogme-esque style, their encounters—with an aging beauty queen, a liberal couple in a crumbling marriage, or an alcoholic night watchman at Ikea—form a poignant mosaic of people sidelined by a conformist culture.
Jalla! Jalla!, a first feature and comic box office hit at home, by actor-director Josef Fares, who was born in Lebanon, filters similar themes into a more commercial mix. Fares, a live wire, stars as Roro, the skinny son of a Lebanese family, to whom he doesn’t dare introduce his Swedish girlfriend, Lisa (Tuva Novotny). His best friend (Torkel Petersson) suffers from erectile dysfunction, and the nice Lebanese girl his family chose as his bride has other plans. Fares’s wit can err on the side of broadness, particularly when caricaturing Swedish attitudes toward sex. The film is marred by some unnecessary visual fireworks, but its depiction of the Lebanese community (where a father’s substantial belly provides a potent weapon) is intimate and affecting.
For a darker portrait of Swedish youth today, try Invisible. Smart teenager Nicklas (Gustaf Skarsgård, son of Stellan) finds his bright future grinding to a halt when a bunch of thugs led by a tough young girl (Tuva Novotny) beat him up. The next day in high school he’s literally invisible. Even his best friend, an immigrant with low self-esteem, can’t see him. Mixing conventions of horror and melodrama, directors Joel Bergvall and Simon Sandquist fashion a provocative parable about kids on the outside of Swedish society.