Swedish film – more than just Bergman

Spearheaded by renowned directors such as Ingmar Bergman and Lasse Hallström, Swedish film has long enjoyed international success. Now a new generation of directors are making their mark, creating everything from fiction to documentaries, from short to feature-length productions.

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Anna Odell (centre-right) stars in ‘The Reunion’, which she also wrote and directed.

Photo: Jonas Jörneberg

Eight Swedish directors to keep an eye on – in alphabetical order:

Anna Odell wrote, directed and starred in The Reunion (Återträffen, 2013), a film about bullying that blurs the boundaries between documentary and fiction. It won the International Federation of Film Critics award for best debut feature in Venice in 2013.

Daniel Espinosa’s directorial breakthrough came with the film version of Jens Lapidus’s crime novel Easy Money (Snabba cash, 2010), the first of a trilogy. The film aroused interest in Hollywood, giving Espinosa the opportunity to direct the action thriller Safe House (2012) with Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington. His latest film, Child 44, is due for release in 2014, featuring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman.

Ella Lemhagen’s films often target a younger audience. Patrik, Age 1.5 (Patrik 1,5) earned international acclaim after its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008. Her upcoming film Pojken med guldbyxorna (‘The boy with the golden pants’), planned for release in 2014, is a remake of a popular Swedish TV series from the 1970s.

Gabriela Pichler wrote and directed Eat Sleep Die (Äta sova dö, 2012), a humorous drama about an immigrant woman who loses her factory job in southern Sweden. The film has won a series of international film awards, including the Venice Film Festival’s 2012 Audience Award.

Josef FaresJalla! Jalla! (2000) is a comedy about love that transcends cultural boundaries. His later work includes a police farce Kopps (2003), the semi-autobiographical film Zozo (2005), a revenge drama entitled Leo (2007) and romantic comedy Balls (Farsan, 2010). More recently, Fares served as creative director for the video game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which was released in 2013.

Lisa Langseth is a cutting-edge director interested in themes of sex, class and power. Her debut Pure (Till det som är vackert, 2010), a film about power structures in the world of culture, launched the career of Swedish rising star Alicia Vikander. Langseth and Vikander teamed up again for Hotell (2013).

Lukas Moodysson’s breakthrough came in 1998 with Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål). Since then, he has directed a number of films such as Together (Tillsammans, 2000), set in a commune in the 1970s, Lilya 4-ever (2002), about a Russian girl forced into prostitution, and Mammoth (2009), which starred Gael García Bernal and Michelle Williams. His latest film, We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!) won the Tokyo Film Festival Grand Prix in 2013.

Tomas Alfredson directed the screen version of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). His vampire drama Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, 2008) won Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2008. He is currently directing an adaptation of Astrid Lindgren’s Brothers Lionheart, shot in English with the biggest budget to date for a Nordic film.

Matias Verala (left) has one of the leads as Jorge in the Easy Money trilogy.

Photo: Lena Garnold/Nordisk Film

Swedish crime still going strong

Swedish crime has become something of a genre in its own right. Even before the hugely successful Millennium suite, a number of films had been tributed to fictional inspectors Wallander and Beck.

The latest in line to reach a truly international audience is the Easy Money trilogy, infusing the genre with more action and less focus on police work. The films are based on three bestseller novels by Jens Lapidus (Easy Money, Never Screw Up, and Life Deluxe).

The films portray a cold and harsh Stockholm in which the main characters JW, Jorge and Mrado are all members of a criminal underworld, paying a high price in their struggles for decent lives.

Hollywood around the corner

Three separate directors are responsible for this action-packed trilogy. Daniel Espinosa directed Easy Money (2010), the success of which opened the door to a career in the United States. Babak Najafi, fresh off his Best First Feature Award at Berlin for Sebbe (2010), directed Easy Money II (2012). Jens Jonsson directed Easy Money III (2013).

The three films have been viewed by over a million cinemagoers in Sweden and have been distributed to more than 30 countries. It is also the subject of a Hollywood remake, with the rights purchased by Warner Bros.

Actor Joel Kinnaman has become an increasingly well-known face in Hollywood following his portrayal of JW. He now stars in the big-budget remake of RoboCop (2014), to mention just one of his projects.

Strong heritage

Historically, Swedes have done crime well on the silver screen. In the 1960s and 70s the first films about inspector Martin Beck appeared, based on the novels by author duo Maj Sjöwall/Per Wahlöö.

The films depicted unusually realistic people and realistic crimes. The close to forty films that have hosted the Beck character to date proves the formula right.

Swedish crime films more than often originate in literature, and author Henning Mankell’s inspector Wallander has been serialised into film both in Sweden and the UK.

The 2009 film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s highly successful Millennium books were one of the main factors behind that year’s highest ever market share for Swedish film at Swedish cinemas. The films also did remarkably well internationally. The first instalment, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor), sparked a Hollywood remake shot on location in Sweden.

‘Searching for Sugar Man’ tells the life story of folk singer Sixto Diaz Rodriguez.

Photo: Nonstop Entertainment

Swedes documenting the world

Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary Searching for Sugar Man (2012) was a major international success, and won an Oscar for best documentary feature – further evidence that Sweden continues to produce award-winning documentaries.

The film tells the story of American folk singer Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, who in the 1960s seemed bound for stardom, but somehow fell into obscurity despite his unquestionable talent.

So why did Rodriguez’s music fall off the radar in the US, all the while becoming synonymous with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa? What actually happened, and is there any truth to the suicide rumours? The film describes Bendjelloul’s struggle to discover the facts about Rodriguez and his disappearance. Archive shots, music and interviews are interspersed with unusual and imaginative animations resulting in a highly original piece.

Fredrik Gertten was sued by the US food giant Dole over his film Bananas!* (2009), which tells the story of the conflict between Dole and the workers at the company’s plantation in Nicaragua. The sequel is entitled Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (2011). In Bikes Vs. Cars (2013), Gertten takes on the automobile industry.

Göran Olsson is most known for his Sundance hit The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75 (2011), a thorough compilation of Swedish TV footage documenting the Black Power Movement in the United States. His latest feature documentary, Concerning Violence (2013), is about Africa’s struggle for liberation from colonial rule. The film is narrated by Lauryn Hill.

Nahid Persson Sarvestani’s film The Queen and I (Drottningen och jag, 2009) is a portrait of the former Queen of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi. Persson Sarvestani was herself born and raised in Iran and took part in the revolution that overthrew the monarchy thirty years ago. Her latest film My Stolen Revolution (Min stulna revolution, 2013) tells the fates of the people the director was forced to leave behind in Iran.

Ingmar Bergman checking the framing of a shot. Behind him is Academy Award-winning cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who shot some 20 of his films.

Photo: Jacob Forsell/TT

Three Swedish auteurs

Ingmar Bergman‘s career as a director and scriptwriter spanned almost 60 years. Internationally, he remains one of Sweden’s best-known cultural figures and his work continues to inspire, moving audiences and filmmakers alike. In 2002, Bergman donated his archive – manuscripts, notes, sketches, photographs and private film footage – to the Swedish Film Institute. By the time he passed away in 2007, he had directed over 50 feature films, including Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop, 1973), and Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander, 1982).

Roy Andersson first made his name as a feature-film director with A Love Story (En kärlekshistoria, 1970), a film about teenage love. His second film, Giliap (1975), was crushed by the critics, and it was not until 2000 that perfectionist Andersson completed his third feature, Songs from the Second Floor (Sånger från andra våningen), which was a major success. You, the Living (Du levande, 2007) and the upcoming A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron, 2014) follow in the same theme and imagery as Songs from the Second Floor. Andersson’s unique visual style has had considerable impact on Swedish film production.

Jan Troell began creating short films in the 1950s, after which he worked as a cameraman on feature-length films. His own debut as a feature-film director came in 1966 with This is Your Life (Här har du ditt liv). He has since directed a number of films that have won international acclaim, among them The Emigrants (Utvandrarna, 1971), which won two Oscar nominations. His latest film, The Last Sentence (Dom over död man), appeared in 2012.

Oscar-winning Swedes

Sweden’s most prominent winner is without doubt Ingrid Bergman, who took home three Oscars in the course of her career – two for Best Actress (Gaslight, 1944 and Anastasia, 1956) and one for Best Supporting Actress (Murder on the Orient Express, 1974).

Three of Ingmar Bergman’s films won Best Foreign Language Film (The Virgin Spring, 1960, Through a Glass Darkly, 1961 and Fanny and Alexander, 1983). In 1970, Bergman also received The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

Other Swedes who have received Oscars include Arne Sucksdorff (Best Short Film for Symphony of a City, 1949), Olle Nordemar (Best Documentary Feature for Kon-Tiki, 1951), Greta Garbo (The Academy’s Honorary Award, 1955), Sven Nykvist (Best Cinematography for Cries and Whispers, 1974 and Fanny and Alexander, 1983), and Anna Asp and Susanne Lingheim (Best Production Design for Fanny and Alexander, 1983).

Since the 1990s, Swedish sound engineers have experienced great success on the US film scene. At the 2013 Oscars, Paul Ottosson (Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) and Per Hallberg (Skyfall, 2012) shared the prize for Best Sound Editing with two different films.

Both Ottosson and Hallberg had been awarded previously, Ottosson for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing (The Hurt Locker, 2009), and Hallberg for Best Sound Editing (Braveheart, 1995 and The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007).

Swedish film agreement

In collaboration between state, film industry, cinema owners and TV companies, Swedish film policy supports the production, promotion and distribution of meaningful films, to preserve and promote Sweden’s film heritage and to ensure that Swedish productions are represented internationally.

The latest Swedish Film Agreement, which came into force on 1 January 2013, provides filmmakers with greater freedom of distribution, includes new funding for TV drama and additional funding for films targeting young audiences, and shorts and documentaries.

The agreement, which runs through 2015, also stipulates that ‘the funding shall be divided equally between women and men’ in the key positions of director, screenwriter and producer.

Funds and other means of film support are allocated and administered by the Swedish Film Institute. In 2012, contributions totalled about SEK 316 million.

Last updated: 22 May 2014