When I grew up, it never occurred to me that Sweden could be the setting for stories of fantasy, magic or horror. Or rather: it could, but only in fairy tales and the children books by Astrid Lindgren and Tove Jansson.
Swedish fantasy movies aiming for an older audience were unthinkable, for various reasons. One was that special effects originating in Scandinavia usually looked awkward, probably because it’s a small market where movies are made with small budgets and there’s never enough money to make anything fancy. Another reason was that my homeland just didn’t feel like a believable setting for fantastic stories. It’s a country built by engineers rather than by storytellers and magicians. Stories about dysfunctional families and existential angst seemed to come more natural to us than expeditions into the realm of imagination.
However all of this changed when Let the Right One In came out. It made me realize that vampires can melt into a suburb of Stockholm perfectly well. Sweden is situated far up in the north, where few people live, sunlight is scarce and the forest is right next to us. We’re soaked in melancholy, an environment where creatures from the other side can thrive.
Based on a book series
The movie The Circle is based on a book with the same name, which is the first part of a hugely popular trilogy in the genre young adult fantasy. In the centre of the story is a group of teenage girls in a small town who discover that they are witches and that they need to save the world from Something Evil, The girls are all very different from each other, and when they find out that they need to cooperate, they do so reluctantly. Each one of them faces challenges in their ordinary life, such as abuse at home or bullying at school, problems that not necessarily can be solved by the means of magic.
Currently this movie is only available in Sweden, but it’s been screened at the Berlin film festival, so chances are that it will be sold to at least a few more countries. I hope it will, if nothing else because it will increase the chances that they’ll make a follow-up.
I liked the way the movie balanced between realism and fantasy. The actors are ok, or even fine, the visuals better than we’re used to in this part of the world, and the sound and score was brilliant. There is currently a huge international demand for Scandinavian crime, but why not extend it to Nordic Fantasy? We already have Let the Right One in and Troll Hunter, if you include The Circle, it looks like a trend.
The remake question
Succesful non-US franchises sometimes become remakes. Should Hollywood make one out of this?
Well, it depends. I don’t think they need to make a similar movie where everything is the same apart from that it takes place on a different continent and everybody speaks English (that’s what subtitles are for!)
Like many other fantasy novels, the source material is extensive . It contains no less than six main characters, and we get to see the events from the point of view of each one of them. Even after squeezing, leaving out two important and popular side characters, it’s a two and a half hour long movie, which is a tad long. And I can’t help thinking it would have been even better as a TV series. It certainly was written lke one.
At this point we don’t know if there will be any international launch or if part two and there in the series will be turned into movies. It’s all in the hand of the box office sales. So far, so good. The film went to second spot on the chart in the opening weekend, right after Fifty Shades of Grey. Let’s hope it will stay up there for a while.
The Circle (Cirkeln, Levan Akin, SWE 2015) My rating: 4/5
Some other Swedish movie bloggers also wrote about The Circle:
Fifty Shades of Grey. That would be a good description of my hair these days. I try to trick myself into accepting it, calling it “natural highlights”. But to be honest it makes me look way older than my age.
If it hadn’t already had this color, I swear the movie with the same title would have changed it that way. It has that effect on you. It makes you feel old and tired.
The movie with the same title had about the same effect on me. It made me feel old and tired.
I ask myself why I’m writing about it in the first place. It’s a rubbish, rubbish movie. I’ve got a whole queue of great movies I’ve seen that I want to share my love for. So why not just leave this one to a well deserved oblivion? To tell you the truth, I’ve made an agreement with my Swedish blogging friends to make a post about it since we watched it together. And I try to stick to my promises.
Besides, as we talked about it afterwards, it turned out that we disagreed about it pretty vehemently. And the fact that we discussed, I guess is an argument for writing about it. There are a few things to be said after all. I’ll keep it brief and make it a list of five issues I had with it:
- The idea to launch it a Valentine’s Day seems bizarre. It’s not a romantic movie. At all. It’s a movie about a relationship that starts on a not-overly-hot level and then quickly descends into misery. Not melancholic, bittersweet, love illness suffering misery. We just watch two people trying being together despite the fact that they’re not compatible sexually. Who wants to watch that on February 14? (Apparently many, since the theatre was sold out.)
- The writing just isn’t any good. I haven’t read the source material, but I can imagine that it’s silly, but also a little charming and forgivable when you read it as a piece of fanfiction. However, turned into a movie it made me roll my eyes and I wasn’t the only one. There was a lot of laughing during the movie, and all for the completely wrong reasons.
- It’s ridiculously old fashioned in terms of gender politics. The rich man, the virgin girl, the constant objectification of the female body. It’s not even trying to pretend to be something else. This is not a feminist movie, even if the writer and director happen to be women. (A female crew is definitely not a guarantee for a female perspective).
- I suppose I’m expected to swoon over Mr Grey. That’s the very idea of this series, isn’t it? Well, I’m not. He’s as hot as a dressing doll after spending a week in a freezer.
- My final – and biggest – issue with this film is the stance it takes on BDSM- I’m not into that kind of sex myself, but from all I’ve heard about it, it appears to me that it has a prejudiced view on it. It suggests that only people who are damaged through traumas in their childhood can be into it, and even hits that you can be taken out of those terrible desires if you discover “true” love. I’ve understood that mutual agreements, a good communication and “safe words” are essential in BDSM. Those concepts are introduced in the film, but soon forgotten. In the end, the one with the kinks turns out to be a monster. The audience is supposed to sympathise with the one who prefers vanilla sex. I guess they wanted to stick within the accepted boundaries, not upsetting anyone.
If you want to see a movie about a less-than-ordinary romantic relationship, I urge you to watch Secretary. I’m probably not the first one to point it out, but I’ll do it anyway, since it deserves it. It’s funny (not involuntarily so), it’s thought provoking and – above all – it’s romantic and endearing. A way, way, way better choice if you want a kinky edge to your Valentine movie.
Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor Johnson, US 2015) My rating: 1,5/5
The views on this movie among the bloggers in the network Filmspanarna varied quite a bit. Here’s what the others made of it:
“… and so they lived happily together for the rest of their lives.”
This was the way fairy tales used to end when I grew up, way before Disney realized that girls actually dream of other things than marriage.
Nowadays I find most love stories with happy endings quite unbearable. Is there anything more boring than to see a couple wrapped up in their own little bubble of happiness? They obviously don’t care for anything but themselves. Why should I care about them?
The movie bloggers in Sweden run a blogathon every month and the theme of February was “love”. (I suspect that the upcoming Valentines’s Day might have something to do with this).
And the more I thought about the topic, the more I realized how dark I want my love movies to be.
You have to push me hard to come up with a love movie with a happy loving couple that I truly love. I suppose there are a few in Love Actually, but my favourite one in that movie is the miserable guy who communicates his unfulfilled love with cards. Then there’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is a bit in-between and not very clear about the prospects of the future. One of my favourite love couples in a movie last year was Only Lovers Left Alive. If you think about it, their relationship is pretty great. But their overall life situation isn’t.
So let’s have a look at my current favourite movie couples:
6. Brief Encounter
There isn’t much physical contact between Laura and Dr Alec during their brief encounters at a railway station café. But this means that every little touch will mean something. Oh, that touch on the shoulder – immensely more erotic than any intercourse possibly could be. The impossible love is the sweetest one.
5. Brokeback Mountain
Ennis and Jack. Do I really need to say anything? Isn’t this the most heart breaking love movie ever?
4. The Bridges of Madison County
Robert and Fransesca – competing with Brokeback mountain for the title “Most tear provoking love movie ever). It’s a shame that it appears so rarely on people’s top lists.
3. Lost in Translation
I’m not entirely sure of the nature of the relationship between Charlotte and Bob, what to make of the food holding scene and exactly what words that were uttered in their final meeting. Regardless what, they’re my favourite platonic love couple evs.
2. The Remains of the Day
Miss Kenton and Mr Stevens. Every time I watch this movie I can’t help hoping that you’ll step out of your comfort zones, cross the barriers and confess your love to each other. Miracles DO happen, right?
1. Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight
Oh, Jessie. Oh, Celine. Unlike most couples on my top list, you aren’t doomed. Your relationship is worth saving, though it will require some effort. Please, please give it a try!
Separation, yearning, death and disaster, misery and melancholy. There you are, my favourite ingredients for love movies. And all movie kisses are overrated, unless they’re performed in a sense of danger and desperation.
Here are the takes on love in movies by my fellow bloggers (in Swedish):
Long time no see!
What have I been up to? I don’t know. A huge workload. A need for rest I guess. Lots of movie watching, but no strong desire to write about them. Until now.
It’s about time that I get this place running. I feel the itch. It’s in the air. The force is with me. It’s time to leave the solitude and once again contemplate what I see publicly.
It seems appropriate that the thing that pulled me out from my temporary isolation from movie blogging was the Austrian film The Wall. The idea to watch it was given to me by Lena, who runs the movie blog Moving Landscapes. We’re both members of a Swedish network of movie bloggers, which regularly runs blogathons on various themes. This month we agreed on giving each other challenges, where we were supposed to dictate a movie to another randomly chosen blogger. It should preferably be something that went beyond what the movie blogger normally would watch. An opportunity to expand our horizons a bit.
Since I’m fairly broad in my taste for movies and love almost all sorts of movies, from the block buster to the low budget artsy film festival reel, it’s not all that easy to find a good challenge. I think this pick was a good effort though. While I watch many different types of movies they have one thing in common: most of them are in English. If you check out my blog there are very, very few movies in German. There’s a couple of Haneke’s movies, there’s Fritz Lang’s M and Wings of Desire but that’s about it. It’s not that I leave out movies from Germany and Austria on purpose, out of prejudices. I just don’t run across them a lot I guess. It’s very rare that they get cinematic release in Sweden.
In the case of The Wall, it’s certainly not something that you stumble upon by accident. It hasn’t got any distribution in Sweden whatsoever, digital or DVD. You have to buy an import version, with English subtitles, which enhanced the feeling that I was watching something that was beyond the ordinary, a movie which probably very few Swedes have seen or even heard of.
So what kind of movie is this? Well, I guess you could say that it’s some kind of mix between a “one man’s (woman’s in this case) survival” drama and a “something weird has happened to the world and we don’t know what it is” fantasy movie. The entire film takes place around a cottage in the Austrian Alps. A woman wakes up one morning and finds herself cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible, impenetrable wall. She has to find a way to survive on her own, with a couple of animals as her only company. The film shows how she deals with the situation. The woman is basically the only person in the movie, apart from a couple of very brief appearances and almost every line she utters is in the form of a voiceover, excerpts from her diary that he reads aloud.
It’s a somewhat sombre, slow burning film, which contains less action and intensity than you might expect from a movie about someone struggling for their life. The woman, excellently portrayed by Martina Gedeck, adjusts to her new life situation surprisingly well, without having a mental breakdown or cursing the world. She’s miserable, but still content at some level. In the review at The Guardian, they called it a “Walden pond with added wall”, which I think is a spot on way to describe it. We never get any explanation why the wall is there, if it’s a natural phenomenon, a glitch in the time-space continuum, an alien invasion or some kind of magic at work. This opens up for all sorts of interpretations of what actually is going on. Is it really about a woman who is trapped physically in the mountains? Or is it in fact an effort to depicture a state of mental illness, like depression?
It’s not a movie I would recommend to everyone I know. It’s probably too odd for most people. I kind of liked it though. It seemed appropriate. But unlike the heroine, I’m now going to reach out to the other side of my wall.
Hey out there! It’s good to be back. I’ve missed you!
The Wall (Die Wand, Julian Pölser, Austria 2012) My rating: 4/5
This post is a part of a blogathon in the Swedish network Filmspanarna.
Links to the other bloggers who picked up a challenge (all in Swedish):
The Nerd Bird
Har du inte sett den (blog)
Har du inte sett den (podcast)
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord
Nightcrawlers. Believe it or not, but once upon a time I was one of them. Kind of.
I could never hear what they said on the police radio. In the middle of all the crackles and noise you could hear something that must be a human voice. But their words were usually indistinguishable, and if you by chance heard what they said, they spoke in codes that didn’t tell me anything.
My lack of understanding wasn’t really a problem though. This was in the late 80s and early 90s, when local newspapers still could afford to hire professional photographers. I was a junior reporter, fresh from the university, clueless and disposable. No one expected anything of me. Like everyone else I relied on the photographers.
Nothing on the police radio would escape their magic ears. And whenever they caught something newsworthy, they would change the plans of the day instantly. Whatever we were up to, we would instantly throw ourselves into the car in order to get to the place where all the action was as soon as possible.
To be honest it always freaked me out. The sooner we got to the place of the accident (usually it was a car accident), the higher was the risk that I actually would see something. Someone injured, someone stuck in a car wreck, a dead or close-to-dead person. And it just didn’t feel right. But who was I to argue? I was a junior. This was what I was supposed to do. So I put myself into robot mode and stopped thinking about it.
The memories from my short career as a journalist came back as I watched Nightcrawler, which is a movie about the people who make a living on taking pictures from scenes of crimes and accidents. Of course there’s a huge difference between my experiences and what we see in this film. For instance we never published images of the victims. We had innumerable photos of car wrecks, but if there was one where you could see and identify someone, we refrained from publishing it, or masked and blurred it so you couldn’t see the person in question. We didn’t trespass any barriers put up by the police. Compared to the photographers in Nightcrawler, we were saints.
And yet – there is a connection: the nagging thought: “why are we doing this?” and the following answer: “because there’s an audience for it.” The only reason to publish images of wrecked cars and homicide victims is that people want to see them. It’s a shared responsibility.
Enough of rambling about my lost youth, I should move on to Nightcrawler, because it’s certainly worth talking about, as one of my favourite movies of this year. Besides I’ve probably mislead you a little with all this talk about ethics in journalism. While it’s undeniably about journalists, I would say that the theme isn’t journalism as much as it’s capitalism. It’s got a knife-sharp edge, directed towards self-help and management literature.
Most of it takes part at night in Los Angeles, where we follow photographers who drive like maniacs all over the city in order to come first to the spot to get the best shots to sell to TV channels.
In the centre of the film is Lou, a former thief, who accidentally ends up in this profession. It’s clear from the start that he’s a psychopath, a person you’d want to stay as far away from as possible in real life. But as unlikeable as he was, I still found myself engaging with him.
I kept wondering how much further he’d be ready to go (the answer always being: “further”), I was constantly sitting on my edge, and when the movie finished, I was equally exhausted and exhilarated, but also a little troubled. All those terrible empty business phrases that Lou used – didn’t they sound awfully familiar, as something that I would say at my job without thinking further about it?
Before finishing this report I also need to mention Jake Gyllenhaal who is absolutely convincing playing Lou. I could have imagined an actor like Matthew McConaughey in this role, but Jake Gyllenhaal – sociopath? That was something I never saw coming. I would be surprised if he wasn’t one of the candidates when it’s time to hand out the Academy Awards.
Dark, funny, engaging and exciting, with a brilliant acting performance, that already feels like a classic. There are many good reasons to watch Nightcrawler.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, US 2014) My rating: 4,5/5
A bunch of Swedish blogging friend of mine also watched Nightcrawler:
What is a good conspiracy theory? Does it need to be believable, trustworthy and reasonable? Do you expect it to be founded on at least some kind of evidence?
No, not at all if you ask me. The good conspiracy theories are the ones with sticky ideas. They’re odd enough to tickle your imagination and spark a conversation. They’re crazy enough to provoke a laugh of surprise. Conspiracy theories have nothing to do with journalism or science. They’re all about entertainment and that’s why they work so well in movies.
We’ve seen quite a few of the more popular theories brought to the screen. The “truth” about the assassination of JFK, the moon landing that “never took place”, secret societies in control of the world and a crashed spaceship covered up by US authorities. We know that territory well by now; we’ve walked the grounds so many times that I’m afraid that the entertainment value is diminishing. We’re ready for some new, fresh and juicy conspiracies to be amazed by, something we haven’t heard before.
This is one of the things that makes documentary Room 237 such an enjoyable watch. While it admittedly touches on the moon landing, it also brings new ideas to the table. Unlike in most conspiracies, it isn’t the government that is accused of manipulation. The one who is claimed to have a hidden agenda is a film director, which of course makes it even more fun to watch for a film fan like me.
I had the opportunity to watch Room 237 at a special Halloween event arranged by the local film club where I’m a member. We made it a double where we first showed the classic horror movie The Shining and then went on showing this documentary which examines the said movie inch by inch, second by second, backward and forward and from all sorts of angels.
Since I knew what the following film was about, I paid more attention than usual to the details in The Shining. I was constantly checking out the background, looking for patterns, something that could have a second meaning, but alas, unless someone else pointed it out to me, I couldn’t see anything hidden at all. All I saw was a good horror movie, with a great atmosphere, some beautiful, haunting shots and a Jack Nicholson at his best.
I would clearly make a terrible conspiracy watcher. I could never join the ranks of the people we meet in Room 237: fans who have dedicated their lives to analyze The Shining down on atom level. They don’t only make their own interpretations of the movie; they’re also convinced that they are revealing the “true” intentions of the director Stanley Kubrick. Since Kubrick died in 1999, he hasn’t much saying in this. But to be honest, even if he was alive, I don’t think that those “truth” seekers would pay all that much attention to his view on this. It’s a conspiracy after all, so he’d probably be lying anyway.
Oddly enough we never get to see the tinfoil hat thinkers in person; we only hear their voices. Their testimonies are instead illustrated by numerous clips from The Shining as well as from other movies.
One of those voices tells us that The Shining in fact is about the oppression of the original inhabitants of North America. Another one is equally sure that it’s about The Holocaust. One of the “proofs” of this is that Jack Nicholson’s character uses a German typewriter. And then there’s the everpresent idea about the assumed falsified moon landing. Kubrick is supposed to have recorded film shots that were presented as taken on the Moon, while they were in fact recorded in Hollywood. His confession of this conspiracy is to be found in The Shining, in the form of hidden messages. According to the tinfoil hat wearer.
A new level of geekdom
I don’t find it that strange that someone falls in love with a movie so deeply that he or she decides to see it a lot of times. We hear about it all the time. I have a friend who probably has seen The Third Man about 150 times. This is remarkable, but I’ve never heard a word of conspiracy thinking or other weirdness coming from him. He just thinks it’s a good movie.
It’s also understandable that someone can become intrigued by a certain aspect of a film, like the people who make timeline spreadsheets of Primer or the woman who is so intrigued by the architecture of the hotel that she draws a map to understand exactly what turns the boy makes on his bicycle tour. However, the fans we meet in Room 237 take geekdom to a new level.
They can spend hours and hours staring at one shot of a cloud that appears in the beginning of the movie. The cloud looks absolutely ordinary to me, but they’re able to find a face in it, the same way as some people claim that they see the face of Jesus on toast slices, in drying paint and whatnot. It’s just that in this case Jesus is replaced by the face of Stanley Kubrick.
The dedicated fans also keep track of the storage room that appears in the movie. In the background you can see a few cans, and if suddenly a can is missing or there’s an extra can, they read something Very Important into it.
Back in the days of vinyl records, there were rumors about certain artists that had secret satanic messages on their records that you’d only hear if you played them backwards. Well, there’s kind of an equivalence of this in Room 237, when one in the tinfoil panel plays The Shining in the normal way as well as backwards, at the same time, with transparent layers. The truth is supposed to appear somewhere in the blurred mess of faces on top of each other.
A mirror of film criticism
Some of the findings presented in the film are more believable than others. I’ve seen it mentioned elsewhere that Kubrick was interested in the technique of subliminal messages, so it seems possible that he might have played with it in one way or another. But most of the theories aren’t particularly convincing to be honest. However I don’t think that’s the point of Room 237. I’ve seen a few negative reviews from people who are dismissing the ideas as silly. But the purpose was never to turn everyone into supporters of the conspiracy theories. The idea is to entertain us as well as to hold up a mirror.
Of course you can’t help smiling at some of the ideas we’re presented here, but the laughs aren’t only aimed at “those crazy people”. It’s also aimed towards people like you and me. The fans of The Shining aren’t the only ones who read meanings into movies, to second-guess the intentions of the director. Most of us who write about movies, either we’re professional film critics, academics or just amateur bloggers, are also guilty of this, although perhaps in a milder form. And that’s ok!
An author or a film maker may have the economical rights to a certain piece of work, but the interpretation rights belong to the audience. Correct or not, who are we to tell? As long as they’re fun, interesting and thought provoking, I’m good.
Room 237 (Rodney Asher, US 2012) My rating: 4/5
This post is a part of a blogathon iniciated by the movie blog network Filmspanarna. The theme was “conspiracy theories”. Here are links to my fellow bloggers:
Are you familiar with the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher?
He’s the one with the “impossible”, mathematically inspired figures – the stairs where people seemingly walk up and down at the same time, the hands that draw each other and Mobius bands with ands that march and march towards eternity.
My parents loved his art, so I had plenty of access to it throughout my childhood, and I became a fan too.
I came to think of this as I watched the time-travel themed movie Predestination. I think there’s a correlation between how you react to Escher’s pictures and how much enjoyment you get from this film.
If a quick glance is all you need before you’re done with Escher’s images, it may not be for you. You probably think that a short film would be sufficient to share the cool idea and the long format is overkill.
On the other hand, if you like I can’t get enough of “impossible” figures, if you see the beauty in a thoroughly put-together time paradox or a never-ending stair, you’re likely to enjoy it quite a bit. I did for sure.
As always with this kind of movie you make everyone a disservice if you share too much of the plot, so I won’t. What you need to know is that there’s time travel, Ethan Hawke (always good), Sarah Snook (never heard of her but she steals the show) and very nice art direction, despite what I assume is a fairly low budget.
As the movie finished, my brain kept processing the twists and turns of the timelines for a little while longer, just as it did after watching movies such as Timecrimes and Looper. I had things to brood over, but it was doable. It doesn’t require you to either watch it sixteen times or use a cheat diagram as a watching companion to “get” it (looking at you, Primer). It’s balanced, with the right amount of cleverness to make you feel smart when you understand it.
If you’re a science fiction fan you might have come across the short story that the movie is based on: All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein. I read this story for the first time after watching the film, and as soon as I had finished it I read it two more times. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but as I told you, I can’t take my eyes off Esher’s pictures.
The film adaptation follows the source material fairly closely, with a couple of exceptions. The view on women has been updated. In Heinlein’s story women’s role in space travel is limited to providing sex and company to male astronauts, basically as some kind of luxury prostitutes. In the movie they’re more capable than that. There’s also an additional storyline about an agent who is chasing a criminal in order to prevent a terrible thing from happening at one point in history. As far as I’m concerned, this addition doesn’t improve on the original idea; it mostly makes the movie a little bit longer and the puzzle a little messier to solve.
However, I think what matters most is the tone and atmosphere, which is spot on. The film noir style expresses the sense of loneliness and melancholy from the original short story very well. I don’t think Heinlein would have disapproved.
Predestination (Michael & Peter Spierig, AUS 2014) My rating: 4/5
Some fellow Swedish movie bloggers have seen this film too. Here’s what they made of it: