‘Northern Exposure’ Swedish Cinema Series at Walter Reade


That graduate seminar mouthful of a program title means that Lincoln Center is playing movies from Sweden—nine new-ish, some shorts, and more than 30 historical films. The latter revisit a bygone moment of cinematic exceptionalism, from silent-era triumphs to the midcentury Svensk Filmindustri, when “Swedish” was an international bywordfor “progressive” dispatches to the world from an apostate, liberated nation.

Gustaf Molander, who has three films in the series, is the kind of consummate pro only an advanced industry can create; A Woman’s Face (1938) is his fourth collaboration with Ingrid Bergman, whom he coached to international stardom and is here quite touching as a mangled woman rebuilt and slowly reborn. From that other Bergman, Ingmar, see a rare screening of his first movie as writer-director, 1949’s bleak-black thumbscrew job Prison, in which the world has irreparably gone to the Devil and all vain human striving is epitomized in the fate of Doris Svedlund’steenaged prostitute.

Bergman acknowledged the inescapable influence of playwright-novelist August Strindberg, who died in Stockholm in 1912, just as the film industry was having its early artistic successes. Alf Sjöberg’s faithful 1951 film of Strindberg’s Miss Julie is the definitive screen version; in its bifocal micro-macro psychological-social vision, you’ll find the model for the classic Swedish film drama. Julie clearly influenced Mai Zetterling’s Loving Couples (1964), which studies pre-War male-female relations filtered through the memories of three women. Actress-director Zetterling had earlier played Miss Julie for television; in Couples, as in Miss Julie, midsummer’s eve festivities loosen class barriers and petticoats. Watch it and Bergman’s The Silence (1963) for proof that the films’ shared cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, could do anything.

The rest of the West has long since caught up to Scandinavian au naturale frankness, but there was a time when an import like Bergman’s Summer With Monika worked alongside Hugh Hefner and Olympia Press to sophisticate bashful Americans. Some films that were once breakthroughs are diminished with their obstacles gone. We who weren’t there then will never see the same I Am Curious (Yellow) that went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1969. Circa ’67, young Jonas Cornell’s Hugs & Kisses caused a fuss with threesomes and pubes; today, its pestering inventiveness only makes one exceedingly glad the playful Sixties are over.

The loss of controversy hasn’t hindered the seduction of Hasse Ekman’s supreme The Girl With Hyacinths (1950), a Kane-derived investigation in which we search for the motive of a young woman’s suicide, the episodic remembrances lit somberly by Göran Strindberg, also DP on Miss Julie and Prison. And, yes, Göran is a distant relation of August—all of which points to the particularly parochial aspect of the small midcentury Swedish film industry. Arguably, nowhere else in film history have so many owed so much to so few.