In my column for Bo Widerberg’s Ådalen 31, I mentioned that that film’s assistant director was none other than a young Roy Andersson. And I think it’s fair to say that Andersson is without a doubt one of the most internationally acclaimed Swedish directors today, and perhaps of all time which may not say much but the fact that he is virtually a brand at this point says something about his incredibly individualistic and unique approach to filmmaking thanks to owning most of his own equipment and studios. But when you say Roy Andersson you immediately think of the long and drawn out takes, loose vignettes that aren’t really connected on a narrative yet thematic level and a profound examination of existentialism and melancholy. But in the beginning his style wasn’t nearly as clearly defined as it has been in his last few features. One will find plenty of similarities as well as differences in Andersson’s debut feature, A Swedish Love Story (En kärlekshistoria) from 1970.
After graduating from the newly formed film school at the Swedish Film Institute in 1969, Andersson as previously mentioned worked for Widerberg on Ådalen 31 before getting the backing from Europa Film to make A Swedish Love Story at the age of 26. The story follows Pär and Annika as they fall in love one summer, and how their youthful love and innocence contrasts with the cynical, dull and repressive world of the grown ups in the film, in this case their parents. They’re all portrayed as bitter or at least as if the life force has been completely sucked out of them, not too different from the way people are portrayed in Anderrson’s later work actually.
What you may probably have guessed by now is that in contrast to Andersson’s later films, A Swedish Love Story is a much more straightforward and story-driven film. However it’s captured in a very free-flowing sense so it doesn’t feel like it’s a film with a clear beginning, middle and end as you do in most movies. It is a very episodic film in structure, in a way to capture a reality that very few other artforms can capture quite as well as film does. Many real locations and amateurs are utilized throughout the film, and I suspect much of the film was shot using natural lighting. Whether or not it was, it’s a fantastic-looking film from a cinematography point of view, which shouldn’t be too surprising as it was lensed by Jörgen Persson, who used natural light on his collaborations with Bo Widerberg (presumably Andersson and Persson met on a Widerberg set and decided to collaborate). On the cinematography note, another way the film differentiates from Andersson’s later works is that this is shot in a much more traditional shooting style, where the camera moves more and there are multiple angles within a single scene. I don’t even think it’s much of a stretch to suggest that this film probably consists of more individual shots than the entirety of Andersson’s post-2000 work combined.
In terms of the themes of the film, they’re pretty straightforward. As mentioned, the film functions on a level about the great divide between generations and how we all generally start out hopeful and innocent but grow to be old and cynical over the years. But as interesting a narrative theme that is, there were times where I found myself disconnected or simply not engaged in the story. That could very well have to do with the films running time clocking in at almost two hours. A shorter running time of 90 or 100 minutes would’ve sufficed I think. Then there’s also a certain dryness to the film that’s hard to explain, but if you know Roy Andersson you may know what I mean. I also think it could do to the fact that it was very inspired by the Czechoslovak New Wave and in particular Milos Forman’s work. Since I felt the same meandering dryness in Forman’s own debut Black Peter, perhaps my slightly cold reaction to this isn’t necessarily much of a surprise.
Whilst I don’t think it’s Andersson’s best film, it’s definitely a fascinating piece of Swedish film history and it’s always fun to see the early traits and beginnings of an auteur and not just focus on their most famous works. I would also probably recommend this film to people unfamiliar with Roy Andersson as it’s much more traditional and therefore perhaps easier to digest.