Show Me Cinema #11: Under the Sun

One of the biggest names in terms of the Swedish film industry is the British Colin Nutley (he moved here and settled in the 1980s). He and his wife-acting collaborator Helena Bergström (who’s played the lead in every one of his films/tv shows since 1990’s BlackJack) struck gold with their film House of Angels (Änglagård), which was seen by a million Swedes upon release, immediately setting Nutley up as one of Sweden’s most financially viable filmmakers, and he’s virtually gone unchallenged ever since. What he’s been praised for is bringing the all-Swedish mentality to the screen through his non-judgemental characters and loose narratives. Now maybe I’m not part of the target audience since I belong to an entire different generation than the ones who saw his films in the 1990s, but I find very little genuine Swedish-ness in his films and mostly see a tourist-y view of our customs and manners. The films of his I’ve seen (four out of fifteen) have all struck me as dull and uninspired films that try to be authentic yet in doing so fails spectacularly. So imagine my amazement over the fact that this film was selected as Sweden’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and even more shocked over the fact that it earned a nomination at all (it lost to All About My Mother thank god). So I figured, if I’m gonna review one of his films it may as well be this one, since this would probably be his most internationally recognized film.

Under the Sun is adapted from an H.E. Bates short story titled The Little Farm, and takes place in western Sweden countryside sometime in the 1950s. Rolf Lassgård plays Olof, a lonely and illiterate farmer who yearns for love in his life. He is helped by his friend Erik, played by Johan Widerberg (son of Bo Widerberg). One day, after a distant relative to Olof has passed away, he puts out an add in the newspaper for a maid to help take care of his house and farm. Ellen (Helena Bergström) answers the ad and gets the job and subsequently moves in with Olof. The two fall in love over the course of the summer, but because of dramatic contrivances they can’t be together.

As with the other films by Colin Nutley I’ve seen, Under the Sun has many of the same issues those films have, yet also some of the same positives. Let’s start with the good things since I’m clearly not impressed by this film at all. The film is very well shot and the cinematography by Jens Fischer is very naturalistic with what looks like a lot of natural or available lighting used, and lends a sense of authenticity and romance to the images on screen. The music by Paddy Moloney is also good for the most part, although I think it is definitely overused in some scenes and would’ve benefited from some trimming. And Rolf Lassgård is good as always, and delivers a solid performance from the material he’s given. Okay that’s about it, no more mr. nice guy anymore, let’s get the knives out!

Okay so the problems are manyfold. First of all, the performances from Helena Bergström and Johan Widerberg are questionable at best and aren’t really up to snuff, especially when compared to Lassgård. They’re too one-dimensional in their respective parts and too theatrical and broad, which contrasts greatly with the overall naturalistic tone and rhythm of the rest of the film. Also Helena Bergström essentially plays the same character she always does in Nutley’s films; she’s a mysterious new member of the community and all the men are fascinated by her (of course), she hooks up with someone and it may not all end so well. Oh and then there’s also a scene where she cries, because she must do so in every Colin Nutley film I suspect. So when the Swedish people voted Helena as the greatest Swedish actress of all time I couldn’t help but cringe (I bet Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo and Bibi Andersson turn in their graves right now).

Another issue with the film, like all the other Nutley films, is the pacing. Why in the name of god does he feel like every film he makes needs to be two hours long? None of his films have plot or characters or interest of any kind to justify that kind of length. Under the Sun for instance could’ve been cut down to a meager 90-95 minutes and it would probably have benefited the final film. But instead we get scenes that don’t really have any purpose in this film whatsoever, like many scenes involving the village priest or scenes with Erik up to some shenanigans, or overlong and uncomfortable sex scenes, which is also a staple of Nutley’s films. In all but one of his films that I’ve seen does Helena Bergström have a half-nude bare-breasted sex scene that feels very uncomfortable when you consider the fact that she’s the directors wife. It almost gives one the sense that he wants to show off.

Now this isn’t really too important a point but I did want to bring it up; why is everyone talking with a Stockholm accent? This is yet another issue with Nutley’s films for me, is that everyone talks as if they’re from the same Dramaten troupe (which they probably are) or as if they’re from the same block in Stockholm. Even when his films are meant to be set in other parts of Sweden (this for instance is set in Västergötland on the west coast) they all speak with the same Stockholm dialect which takes me out of the film completely, especially when the films are set in regions or cities with distinct dialects. Now Ingmar Bergman did the same thing in his work, but the difference here is that sometimes in Bergman’s films the location is often left ambiguous but more importantly his films are never meant to be taken literally, but rather metaphorically and expressionistically. Nutley tries to depict the Swedish working man in a celebratory way, but how is it celebratory in any way when the characters meant to represent them don’t even share the same dialect as their real-life counterparts? Colin Nutley, more like “the poor man’s Bo Widerberg.”

You know, if I’m being fair, the film probably isn’t as bad as I make it out to be, and maybe I’m being a bit unfair here. But the more I think about it, the less I find in the film that is worth liking or praising. I may try out a few more of Nutley’s films in the future, but I doubt I’ll actually find anything I’ll like. As for now, I’ll let this review speak for my thoughts on Mr. Nutley and his turgid filmmaking and hopefully I won’t force myself to try reviewing another one of them.

Also this movie came out the same year as Show Me Love, which means Show Me Love was overlooked as our submission for Best Foreign Language Film. So fuck this movie!


Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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