The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The post where I show some love for Swedish movies

with 29 comments

Sometimes I feel bad for not writing more about Swedish movies.

It’s not that I think that I have some kind of obligation to promote Swedish films in the film fan community. I’m a free soul and they don’t pay me to do their marketing.

But the thought comes to me sometimes that I’m doing a crappy job as being one of the very few Swedes who blog about movies in English. If anyone should write about what’s up on the Swedish film scene, it should be me. I could open a window and give you glimpses. I could direct you to good Swedish movies. I could be your foreign correspondent. I could show you that Swedish movies are more than sex, blondes and Bergman.

Hanging my head in shame
What keeps me from writing more often about Swedish films than I do is the fact that I haven’t seen many good Swedish movies lately. 2011 wasn’t a great movie year forSweden. On the other hand our neighbour country Norway has been on a roll, and I’ve written enthusiastic takes on new Norwegian movies on a few occasions.

I also have to hang my head in shame and admit that I haven’t watched as many Swedish movies as I should. I have yet to see many of the Swedish movies that are considered “classics”, including the majority of the movies of Ingmar Bergman. If you go to for instance Tyler at Southern Vision or Martin Teller and check out their sites, you’ll probably find far more reviews of Swedish movies than here. What can I say? There’s a Swedish proverb that says “Don’t cross the brook for water”. But that’s what I’m doing all the time and I think I’m not alone. I recently caught Ryan at The Matinee not having watched a modern classic among Canadian movies.

However, enough of self picking and excuses! I decided to make up for it a little bit for it in this post. In all simplicity I made a list of ten Swedish movies that I got to think of, all of them ones that I liked a lot and would recommend a watching. I’m pretty certain you’re familiar with some of the titles but perhaps I can give a couple of pointers to new territories.

A disclaimer: this is a 10-list, but it’s not a top list where I rank the best Swedish movies ever made. I just wanted to give you some examples of Swedish movies you might want to check out. We’ve got more to offer than just girls with dragon tattoos.

1. Scenes from a Marriage (Scener från ett äktenskap), Ingmar Bergman 1973

They say that the Swedish divorce rate skyrocketed after the original min TV-series version had been shown on the public television. True or not, it certainly can serve as inspiration to think over what works or doesn’t work in your relationship. I can’t think of any other movie that shows the inns and outs of a marriage as truthfully as this one. Love and hate, anger, sadness, bitterness, jealousy, disappointments, frustration and fear, but also tenderness, deep friendship and affection. It’s all there. It’s painful, gripping, occasionally funny and if I’d only recommend one of Ingmar Bergman’s works to watch it would be this one.

2. Fanny & Alexander  Ingmar Bergman 1982

Without having any fact to back it up with, I’d say that Fanny & Alexander is the one of Bergman’s movies that is most appreciated among the Swedes (together with film adaptation of The Magic Flute, which also reached a wide audience). While it has some very dark and even scary elements, it’s widely regarded as a rather bright, cheerful and accessable movie, not the least thanks to the merry scenes from a Christmas celebration in the Ekdahl family and the little speech about the joys of the “little world”:

“The world is a den of thieves and night is falling. Evil breaks its chains and runs through the world like a mad dog. Therefore let us be happy while we are happy. Let us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world.“

Il faut cultive notre jardin as Voltaire would have put it. I can only agree.

3. Man on the Roof (Mannen på taket) Bo Widerberg, 1976

I’ve lost track on how many film versions of the commissary Martin Beck there are out there and to be honest I have very little interest in them. For me there’s only one version that matters: the one that Bo Widerberg gave us in the excellent Swedish action thriller Man on the Roof. Watch it and get a glimpse of the Swedenthat I grew up in.

4. The Emigrants (Utvandrarna), Jan Troell 1971

In the 19th and early 20th century about 1,3 million Swedes left Sweden for the United States, pushed away by poverty and bad crops, pulled by the chance to get jobs and good farmland. As they arrived it turned out thatAmericawasn’t quite the land of milk and honey they had depictured. Their lives were still a harsh struggle for survival. Everything I know about the emigrants, I’ve learned from this movie (and the classical novels by Wilhelm Moberg it’s based on.). For some reason it appears to be a little bit forgotten these days or at least you don’t hear much talking about it. Perhaps people aren’t that keep on watching other people’s misery these days.

5. The Simple-Minded Murderer (Den enfaldige mördaren), Hans Alfredson 1982

This is a sad and upsetting story about Sven, who isn’t an idiot, but is considered one since he can’t speak properly because of a handicap. Like man others in the village of the 1930s he’s in the hand of the evil landlord Höglund. Things keep building up until the tipping point is reached.

I will always remember this film for its usage of Verdi’s Requiem. I think it’s been used as film music on other occasions, but this is always the film I’ll connect to it. It’s truly powerful.

This was also the break-through movie on a national level for Stellan Skarsgård (apart from his teenage appearance in a TV series.) And a final note of interest: the director Hans Alfreson (who also plays the evil landlord) is a very well known and much loved comedian, actor, director and author inSweden. He’s also the father of Tomas Alfredson, known for Let the Right One In and recently Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

6. As it is in Heaven (Så som i himmelen), Kay Pollak 2004

Michael Nyquist plays an internationally successful director who after a burnout returns to his childhood village in the far north of Sweden. He takes up to direct the local church choir, thus becoming a catalyst, bringing hope, inspiration and empowerment to some villagers, but being a threat to others. Reinforced by plenty of music, this movie offers a lot of big emotions and I think it does it well, with exception for the very end, which was a little bit over-the-top for my taste. But it’s just a minor complaint; on the whole I liked it among with many, many other Swedes. It became a major hit in when it came in 2004 with over 1 million people watching it, which is quite a few in a country with 9 million inhabitants.

7. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) Tomas Alfredson 2008

Let the Right One In is an adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvists novel with the same name, which is one of the best vampire books I’ve read in my life, if not The Best. Before reading it, the thought had never occurred to me that you could use a Swedish suburb from the 70s as the setting for a vampire story. But I was proven wrong. Admittedly I was little worried that the film might not be as good as the novel, but I think it was. I haven’t seen the American remake, but I’ve heard it’s OK. It just boggles my mind why it needs to exist. In any case: the Swedish original is a brilliant and I can’t recommend it enough.

8. My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund) Lasse Hallström 1985

Bittersweet and charming in a quiet way how I’d describe his coming-of-age story about a boy’s childhood in the 50s. It became the entrance ticket for Lasse Hallström toHollywood. I’m not sure if he ever did a movie as good afterwards. It’s been over 25 years since I watched it, so my memory is somewhat blurred, but I remember that the child actors Anton Glanzelius and Melinda Kinnaman were excellent.

9. Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål) Lukas Moodysson 1998

The Swedish title of this movie, ”Fucking Åmål”, sounded English enough to me, but obviously it was more than an international audience could stomach, so they had to rename it. I guess the original title could have been somewhat confusing. “Åmål” isn’t the name of a person. It’s a dull Swedish small-town and the title refers to cursing, not to sexual activities. I guess it could be misunderstood, even though I think “Show Me Love” sounds a bit lame. And this movie is anything but lame. It’s funny and engaging and I think you don’t need to be a lesbian or come from a small town like Åmål to recognize some of the sentiments and situations. If nothing else it’s worth watching for the end, which guaranteed will give you a kick.

10. Together (Tillsammans), Lukas Moodysson 2000

I already have one Lukas Moodysson movie on this list, but I couldn’t refrain from adding another one. They’re both so good that I couldn’t pick one over the other. I’ll make it easy for myself and repeat what I wrote in a previous post:

“In 1975 when Together takes place I was 8 years old. I didn’t live in a leftist commune, but there’s still a lot to recognize for someone who grew up inSweden at this time. Everything is spot on; not just the designs of clothes, furniture and hair cuts, but also the way people think and act. While it’s a lot of fun when the movie mercilessly mock some of the bizarre political ideas flourishing at that time, it’s also a dark and engaging drama, taking sides with the kids who are surrounded by grown-ups who, for all their claims about saving the world, mostly care about their own needs. When all things come to a satisfying end and everyone joins in a football game in a snowy garden accompanied by Abba music, I can’t but smile, no matter how many times I watch it. It’s definitely one of my favorite Swedish movies.”

Final word
And I’ll leave it there on a high note. Do you agree or disagree with my recommendations? If you made a top five of the Swedish movies you’ve seen, how would it look? Which movies should I include on my next sample list of Swedish film?

 Feel free to continue the discussion over a drink!

Written by Jessica

March 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

29 Responses

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  1. Very good list Jessica, however for a list of this kind I’d probably had skipped Bergman totally since everyone more or less know all his great films.

    I’d also add Man from Mallorca which is a excellent companion to Man on the Roof. Ruben Östlunds last couple of films I’d also add they are both very good.

    Its also refreshing to NOT see Roy Andersson on here. I’d say his first film a Love Story is worth recommending to foreigners and I think that DVD actually have English subtitles.

    Joel Burman

    March 2, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    • Well, perhaps Bergman has gotten enough of love as it is, but to me those two movies are so good that it would have felt dishonest not to mention them. I’m afraid that I can’t remember a thing of Man from Mallorca, so it wasn’t a candidate.
      Ruben Östlund is a void in my film watching. I’m totally going to fix that. I hope my library has some of his films.
      Roy Andersson… well I haven’t watched all his movies. But I did watch one just the other day, so expect an incoming Roy Andersson post. 🙂


      March 3, 2012 at 12:28 am

  2. I obviously love seeing Let The Right One In and Fucking Amal (I’m not afraid to say it, even if it sounds like a porno to American ears) and I do like Together as well. Obviously I would include Roy Andersson (You, The Living), I would perhaps include the original Dragon Tattoo, and I’d ditch your Bergman selections and go for Seventh Seal and maybe Smiles on a Summer Night as I frankly couldn’t stand those two TV films.

    I know I’ve seen My Life As A Dog many years back but all I remember is an incident with a bottle. I’ll have to look into a couple of these other films.


    March 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    • I’ve seen Seventh Seal and it’s certainly worth a mentioning too. I didn’t want to let the entire list go all Bergman. It’s possible though that I’ll include it in a future post.

      To be honest I don’t recall too much of My Life as a Dog either. But I do remember that I loved it at the time it came out.


      March 3, 2012 at 12:30 am

  3. The only films in that list I’ve seen are Fanny & Alexander and Let the Right One In though I’ll add Scenes from a Marriage (theatrical version) to that list next weekend.

    Steven Flores

    March 2, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    • Yay! Considering how much and review I would have expected you’ve already seen it. But I’m glad your’e soon going to. I look forward to your take of it!


      March 3, 2012 at 12:31 am

  4. Definitely want to check out Man on the Roof. The one I expected to see represented was Roy Andersson. Songs From the Second Floor is really unique. Also though The Phantom Carriage might be on the list. I’m sure it’s an honorable mention.


    March 3, 2012 at 12:53 am

    • To be honest I’m not a Roy Andersson expert. I’ve mostly seen his ads (which I love) 🙂
      But I watched You, the Living as late as thursday. Hopefully there will be a post incoming soon. He’s really special in his style.

      I’m afraid I haven’t seen The Phantom Carriage. I really should considering I like silent movies.


      March 4, 2012 at 9:19 pm

  5. Of course I’m thrilled to see the Bergmans (Scenes is my #1 movie of all-time and F&A is top 20 if not top 10). I saw My Life as a Dog MANY years ago (late 80’s) but a few scenes still linger with me. Show Me Love and Let the Right One In are very very good as well.

    The Emigrants has been on my watchlist for a long time, hopefully I’ll get to it soon. I should probably check out Together too. The other three are totally unfamiliar to me, I’ll have to look into them.

    There are many other Bergmans I could champion, but I’ll spare everyone a long list. I will get behind all the Roy Andersson love, and Phantom Carriage. And I really like The Saga of Gosta Berling and Sjoberg’s Miss Julie.

    Thanks for the mention!


    March 3, 2012 at 1:07 am

    • Many good suggestions there Martin. You ARE much better at Swedish film than I am. I’m NOT kidding. I haven’t seen The Saga of Gosta Berling. Sjoberg’s Miss Julie is one I’ve seen and liked, but it’s a little too long since I watched it for me to write about it. Very vague memories (even though I obviously have read and seen the play many times. You get it in school over and over again, one of the most talked about STrindberg works I think.)


      March 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm

  6. I have seen none of these films… except My Life as a Dog, which is truly excellent. I’ll be doing my top 80s films in two weeks, and I know it will be on that list.


    March 3, 2012 at 6:03 am

    • Nice to hear that My Life as a Dog still is remembered and appreciated. It was HUGE here when it came in the 80s, but nowadays I’m not so sure if many remember or care about it.


      March 4, 2012 at 9:22 pm

  7. I often find mysef thinking the same things you did in that opening bit. Like there is indeed some obligation for us English-writing Swedish bloggers to talk about Swedish films. Of course, there isn’t, but it feels like it. Then I just go “Well, to hell with that. I’ll write what I want to write.” 🙂

    It’s further complicated by the fact that I don’t tend to watch a whole lot of Swedish films to begin with. I don’t know what I would put on a list of Swedish films. I’ve liked all the Moodyssons I’ve seen so far (the ones you mentioned and Lilja 4-ever). Ondskan would have to be up there as well.

    Nice post!


    March 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    • Thanks Emil! Well, like you I don’t watch all that many Swedish films. But I feel as if I should shape up a bit and try to at least catch up with some of the classics. Perhaps we can inspire each other a bit?
      I must admit that I’ve neither seen Moodyssons later films or Ondskan. (Especially Ondskan is a bit shocking, I know, how have I’ve been able to avoid it?)


      March 4, 2012 at 9:24 pm

  8. I would like to add Bästa sommaren (The Best summer?) my all time high if one talks swedish movies.


    March 4, 2012 at 11:47 am

    • I think I’ve seen that one but to be honest I can’t remember it. I like Ulf Malmros though. The latest one I saw was Bröllopsfotografen, which I really enjoyed a lot and would recommend.


      March 4, 2012 at 9:27 pm

  9. Great post, but where’s Slim Susie? 😉 Värmland’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but a lot better.


    March 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    • I haven’t seen it! I told you. I don’t watch a lot of Swedish movies, shame on me!


      March 5, 2012 at 4:33 pm

  10. […] I did a list of 10 Swedish movies I recommend, I got a few mixed reactions about the absence of Roy Andersson. Some thought that I had overlooked […]

  11. In the beginning I wondered about why they translated Fucking Åmål to Show Me Love. But now I believe that there is something different about swearing in English when you’re Scandinavian than what it would have been like for a native speaker – it sort of conveys the essence of the movie: This place is so in the middle of nowhere that I don’t even think the language spoken here can express how much I want to be elsewhere (or at least imagine that elsewhere is better). Of course they could have kept the title, but it would not have meant exactly the same in English as it does in Swedish anyway. I think. But, Show Me Love does not convey the same meaning at all…


    March 7, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    • Yes, I think it’s a shame too that they had to change it. But thinking it over I realize why. The meaning in English is definitely different.


      March 8, 2012 at 7:28 am

  12. Fair point and a worthy endeavour to try and promote Swedish movies (although we like to trash them as well). I would side with Joel on skipping Bergman and with Pladd for including at least something by Ulf Malmros (and Slim Susie is the best one).

    Why not something animated? Old news, I know, but The Journey to Melonia (Resan till Melonia) is truly lovely. Also some old Colin Nutley, when he still had the touch — Black Jack, perhaps? And I think Fiffi would promote Richard Hobert.


    March 7, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    • Good suggestions! Resan till Melonia is awesome! I should rewatch it and then try to sell it to the world. If it’s even available abroad, I have no idea.

      As of Colin Nutley… Nah, I don’t think so. Not quite my cup of tea. 😦

      But Lars Molin on the other hand! I should make a Lars Molin marathon one day. He’s the thing if you ask me. But then again: is there any chance for anyone outside of Sweden to see it?


      March 8, 2012 at 7:30 am

  13. Loving the inclusion of Show me Love (quite hard to source in the UK) and Together. Both stunning films, and both fantastic reasons why it was such a pitty that Moodysson started doing guff like Hole in My Heart. The endings to both films are also so absolutely uplifting. Awesome choices!

    Paragraph Film Reviews

    March 8, 2012 at 9:10 am

  14. I just wanted to say I totally agree with you on questioning the need for the remake of Let the right one in. They did a good job with it but its just not quite as good as Alfredson’s and in retrospect totally pointless. I will have to see about checking out some of the others on your list as I am only 2/10 currently

    March 9, 2012 at 3:56 am

  15. […] After all the linkage she has given my site in the last two weeks, I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to Velvet once more before her episode drops down in the feed. earlier this week, she partook in a bit of nationalism, listing off her favorite Swedish films. […]

  16. I’ve seen two movies of your list, Let the right one in and Fanny & Alexander. I think that Let the right one in is brilliant.

    And I made the mistake of watching the second movie with my father and sister. My father was bored to no end while watching it. It being a very lengthy movie didn’t help much. In any case, I liked it 🙂


    March 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    • It’s a downer to watch movies in company with someone who is bored. I’m glad you managed to find it enjoyable anyway.


      March 14, 2012 at 7:37 am

  17. […] at The Velvet Cafe shares some of her favorite films from her home country of […]

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