Madcap romps and the tedium of Swedish hamlets abound in Walter Reade’s annual svenska film roundup. “The whole train’s going straight to hell,” says a wearied nun in Peter Dalle’s Illusive Tracks. Set in 1945, Dalle’s manic film features a disaster-prone literary critic, a murderous physician, Baltic refugees, a miserable queeny couple, and cunning sapphists en route from Stockholm to Berlin. Spoofing The Lady Vanishes and Double Indemnity, it exhausts more than it entertains.
The hapless police force of wee Högboträsk in Kops, Josef Fares’s wan comedy, find their crime-fighting efforts limited to lassoing errant cows. To keep their station from being shut down by the crown-pinching government, the flatfoots steal sausages, blow up a hot dog stand, and stage a kidnapping. The Benny Hill-meets-Die Hard 3 high jinks sink to gags involving toupees and shitting in the woods.
In Eriksberg, population 5,000, 20-year-old Minna (Henna Ohranen) toils in a brewery canteen in Kristina Humle’s moving debut, Love & Happiness. Quietly forging her adulthood after her mother’s death, Minna endures a workaday life chopping vegetables, an icy stepmother, and a disastrous love affair—until she realizes that Stockholm is only 210 kilometers away. The graceful performance of Ohranen, who resembles a Scandinavian Chloë Sevigny, gives Humle’s film much of its poignancy.
Stockholm is—briefly—the destination of 14-year-old alpha girl Elin (Alexandra Dahlström) and 16-year-old bookworm Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg) in Lukas Moodysson’s brilliant debut, Show Me Love (1998)—originally titled Fucking Åmål, after the girls’ dead-end burg. Moodysson, whose four features are the highlight of the series, not only captures the misery and exhilaration of adolescence but also gives us one of the tenderest same-sex romances in recent years. Literally coming out of the (water) closet, Elin grabs Agnes’s hand, announcing to their astonished classmates, “This is my new girlfriend. We’re going to fuck.” Well, not before they finish their glass of chocolate milk.