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Northern Exposures: Social Change & Sexuality in Swedish Cinema, 1913-2010

Northern Exposures: Social Change and Sexuality in Swedish Cinema, 1913-2010 hits screens at The Film Society of Lincoln Center from April 16th-May 4th, 2010. Presented in collaboration with the Swedish Film Institute and the Swedish Institute, the series offers up a comprehensive survey of Swedish film from the early 20th century to the modern day including silent film gems, beloved classics, and exciting current releases.Cover of The Girl Who Played with Fiire

"The selection of films is indeed very interesting and gives an insight and perspective to Swedish film and Swedish society. We are happy to be given this chance to raise awareness of Swedish cinema towards the American audience and hope that the visiting Swedish directors and producers will further strengthen the networks between our filmmaking communities," said Pia Lundberg, Head of International Department, Swedish Film Institute.
This extraordinary survey of a rich, eclectic national cinema spans from witty, thoroughly modern silent comedies (shown with live piano accompaniment) to Ingrid Bergman's breakthrough film, from dark suspense to insightful dramas (and, yes, Wild Strawberries!). It's also a chronicle of a pioneering social democracy-at the vanguard of social change and sexual openness. Showing alongside the survey will be recent films including work by the director of Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson,and prizewinning Sundance charmer The King of Ping Pong.
This series offers a chance for audiences to immerse themselves in the vital and engaging cinema of Sweden.

"We're very pleased with the Film Society of Lincoln Center's broad and perceptive presentation which outlines the development of Sweden in the 20th century and with it the country's film industry," says Olle Wästberg, General Director, Swedish Institute. "With focus on modern film and its creators, Northern Exposures is also a unique opportunity to discover the wealth of masters from earlier eras such as Ingmar Bergman, Hasse Ekman, and Vilgot Sjöman."
Northern Exposures creates not only a chronicle of the development of Swedish filmmaking, but of the country itself. At the moment that movies were introduced to Sweden, it was an overwhelmingly rural society, very much wrapped in traditional ways of life and thought. Yet by the 1930s, Sweden had introduced legislation that would create the world's first true social democracy; changes in land ownership, working conditions, the status of women, as well as the growth of industry decisively transformed the society.

Sweden suddenly found itself in the vanguard of social change-as evidenced by the increasing sexual openness of its cinema, from the bathing scenes of Only a Mother and One Summer of Happiness to the taboo-smashing I am Curious (Yellow), a film that helped change US laws regarding moral restrictions in art.
The multi media installation "Ingmar Bergman: The Man Who Asked Hard Questions" will be on view in the Film Society's Furman Gallery from April 16th- 25th. This installation invites visitors to encounter Bergman's fascinating world via projections onto five screens on a man-made tree. The projected materials include scenes from Bergman's films, interview clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and more. "The Man Who Asked Hard Questions" offers a look at new and unexpected facets of the Swedish film legend's life and work, and has been presented in combination with the director's films around the world since 2008.
Filmmakers in attendance include Henrik Hellström, Stig Björkman, Fredrik Edfeldt, and Babak Najafi.

Series highlights include the US premiere of The Girl Who Played with Fire -- the film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's wildly popular novel and sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Additional US premieres include Hellström and Fredrik Wenzel's lyrical Burrowing, and Najafi's emotionally gripping Sebbe, which was awarded best debut feature at the Berlin International Film Festival, 2010.

 In addition to films, the series offers a filmmakers panel discussion on Swedish Cinema: Then and Now, and a Meet the Programmer event that offers a peak into the planning of the series.
Surveys of national cinemas, in my view, are of considerably less interest than director retrospectives; such series substitute sociology for aesthetics as their guiding principle. However, I always welcome an opportunity to deepen my knowledge of film history; the Film Society of Lincoln Center's three-week Northern Exposures series, starting April 16th, devoted to Swedish cinema provides ample occasion to view rare titles from a not inconsiderable national industry. Below are capsules of a few highlights screened in advance.

A Night (1931)
directed by Gustaf Molander
A very early sound film, A Night's visual approach is memorably rooted in the silent cinema -- indeed this work is remarkable for the degree to which its story is articulated through visual means. The film concerns two brothers on opposites sides of the Russian Revolution in Finland; the political content of this remarkable subject matter is regrettably flattened to serve the purposes of melodrama, reducing the interest of A Night more to the status of a curiosity. The  Girl with Hyaciinths

The film was screened in what looked to be a recently struck archival print and it looked too dark in some scenes, but the pure visual storytelling on display here more than held my interest -- indeed the celebratory editing of the photographed landscape here rises to the level of visual poetry.

The Girl with Hyacinths (1950)
directed by Hasse Ekman
Probably the strongest film of the four classics was the previously shown The Girl with Hyacinths. However, it was the least visually splendorous but by far the mostOne  Summer of Love elegantly constructed. The Girl with Hyacinths takes the form of an investigation into the causes of the suicide of a young woman who dies at the film's outset.

Screened in a what looked to be a newly struck print, The Girl with Hyacinths is a moving experience, featuring memorable performances by Ulf Palme and Anders Ek, among others.

One Summer of Happiness (1951)
directed by Arne Mattson
This film is also graced by excellent nature photography, seen to superb effect in the excellent, newly struck print screened here. The film is a tragic love story set in the Swedish countryside and holds one's interest through the appeal of its two young leads and some fluid deployment of camera-movement.

Kisses & Hugs (1967)Kisses and Hugs
directed by Jonas Cornell
Kisses & Hugs was the oddest of these four films. A couple takes in an eccentric writer when the girlfriend he lives with ends their relationship; what ensues is a series of quasi-picaresque episodes which unfold with a verite quality. 

If this film too remains a curiosity of its period, it is possibly the most visually remarkable and it is screened in an outstanding print which reveals the subtle tonalities of the lighting to full effect.

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