Title: The Seventh Seal
Release Date: February 16, 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri
This is a movie I watched sometime back in the 1990s, but didn’t remember too well beyond the “playing chess with Death” scenes (which is what everyone knows about this movie whether they’ve seen it or not). Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight returning after ten years fighting in the Crusades and facing a crisis of faith in a God he cannot experience with his senses. He’s accompanied by his more earthy squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) who functions as more of the movie’s protagonist in that he initiates much of the action within the story.
The film begins on a beach where the knight and squire have just arrived in their home country and Death comes for the knight. The knight challenges Death to a chess match both as a way to extend his own life and perhaps cheat Death. They continue playing intermittently through the movie. We are also introduced to the other main characters, Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson), a married pair of traveling actors with a toddler son.
Eventually all of these characters come together as they travel the land where encounter signs of The Great Plague ravaging the people, a procession of flagellants, and a woman put to death as a witch. The movie features some intense scenes and deals with serious philosophical issues regarding mortality, faith in God, and the meaning(lessness) of life. And yet, there are also moments of humanity and joy, such as when several of the characters share strawberries and milk on a pleasant day. The movie is also surprisingly funny at several parts.
Ultimately, Antonious Block finds contentment in “one meaningful deed” where his is able to distract Death long enough for Jof, Mia, and their baby to escape. The movie features both striking cinematography and brilliant acting. It is worthy of the accolades of being among the greatest movies of all time. I think I’ll wait fewer than 25 years before I watch it again.
Title: Wild Strawberries
Release Date: December 26, 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri
The Nordic countries are generally ranked among the happiest nations on Earth, but the movies are depressing AF. Well, this is actually only the second Ingmar Bergman film I’ve watched (I saw The Seventh Seal long ago), so maybe this is a rush to judgement.
Wild Strawberries is about the elderly and misanthropic physician Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) taking a journey to receive an honorary medal for 50 years of service. Accompanying him on the road trip is his daughter-in-law Marianne Borg (Ingrid Thulin) who is estranged from her husband and makes it clear early on that she doesn’t like Isak much. Along the journey they pick up three young hitchhikers, two men and a woman named Sara (Bibi Andersson), whose exuberance is a contrast to Isak and Marianne and others they encounter on their journey. These include a vitriolic married couple who crash their car and Isak’s cold and unsentimental mother (Naima Wifstrand).
The journey is interspersed with Isak’s dreams and flashbacks to his youth. He’s particularly nostalgic for his childhood sweetheart Sara (also played by Bibi Andersson), who ended up marrying his brother. Both the journey and the dreams and visions help Isak confront what he’s lost in his past, his present loneliness, and mortality. He also forms a bond with Marianne and the hitchhiker Sara. For all the grim realism of the film, it surprisingly has a happy ending. The movie is well-filmed and well-acted and worth a rewatch for a deeper analysis.
Artist: First Aid Kit
Release Date: 19 January 2018
Thoughts: Ruins is the latest release from the Swedish folk rock duo of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg. I’m inextricably drawn to close, female harmonies and lush instrumentation in all cases, and this is no exception. All the same, I think that First Aid Kit can create music with more bite, and there’s something missing here. Thus it’s good album, worth a listen, but not as great as it could be.
This week, quick thoughts on three new albums I listened to today.
Artist: Fever Ray
Release Date: 2017 October 27
Favorite Tracks: “Wanna Sip” and “IDK About You”
Thoughts: Fever Ray is the solo project of Swedish electronic musician Karin Dreijer, also of the duo The Knife. The album has some sick beats and synths, but Dreijer’s voice is unpleasant and the frequent profanity seems to be juvenile attempt to be shocking.
Album: Wild and Reckless
Artist: Blitzen Trapper
Release Date: 2017 November 3
Favorite Tracks: “Joanna” and “Stolen Hearts”
Thoughts: A twangier, pure country outing from Blitzen Trapper grew out of a “rock opera” staged in their native Portland, OR that tells a sci-fi love story of two kids on the run.
Album: Queens of the Breakers
Artist: The Barr Brothers
Release Date: 2017 October 13
Favorite Tracks: “You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” and “It Came To Me”
Thoughts: The Montreal-based Americana jam band with a harp received good reviews for their innovative sound, but the album sounds kind of like generic folk-pop to me. Not my thing.
This week’s song of the week, “Big Bad Good,” features the alluring harmonies of the Scandanavian folk duo My Bubba.
This week’s song “Don’t Wait,” is by Rhode Island-born Stockholm-raised sing Mapei (and who can resist a Rhode Island/Sweden connection). I learned of the song through NPR’s All Song’s Considered. Mapei describes her music as “21st-century gospel or doo-wop.”
This is just a weird track by an “experimental fusion music group” from Sweden called Goat. I just can’t shake “Goatman” out of my head.
Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Sweden
Author: Henning Mankell
Title: Faceless Killers
Publication Info: New York : New Press, c1997.
An elderly couple are brutally murdered in their farmhouse near a provincial Swedish town. It’s detective Kurt Wallender’s job to solve this crime, but shocking as the murders are, they are secondary (maybe tertiary) to this novel. The woman’s dying word “foreigner” stirs up the local community against refugees who are pouring into nearby camps. Violence against the refugees and ultimately another murder make Sweden’s refugee policy (circa 1990) central to this novel as well as providing more crimes for Wallender to solve.
This novel is also a psychological portrait of Wallender. He’s aging, conservative, his wife has left him, he eats poorly, he drinks too much and he’s somewhat lecherous. The only thing he’s good at is being a detective and even there he fails to heed the advice of one of his colleagues in the police department. In short he’s every cliche of a police detective, and yet he comes across as a full-fleshed, complex, and sympathetic character. He’s reminiscent of a less-whimsical Inspector Morse.
I’m not sure if it’s Mankell or his translator but the writing is very spare and artless. It is evocative of the cold, open landscape of rural Sweden. This book is interesting in that through my American eyes I’ve always seen Sweden is very progressive so the controversy and racism regarding refugees was something I was completely unaware of.
I learned of this book from The Hieroglyphic Streets which contains links to other reviews.
Recommended books: Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels.