Tag Archives: Scandinavian

Fanny and Alexander

25 Mar

It’s difficult to talk of favourites, especially when it comes to Ingmar Bergman films. How can you choose between Summer with Monika, the Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Smiles of a Summer Night or Cries and Whispers to name just a few of the great man’s works? Yet I can’t deny the special place that Fanny and Alexander has in my heart. Last week I watched the full five hour version for the third time and found myself even more captivated than ever by it. My fondness for is based on different factors; growing up almost as an only child with half siblings who lived elsewhere and no other relatives my own age, I still dream of being part of a large family and in particular celebrating Christmas the way the Ekdahl family do. The project was also one of Bergman’s final collaborations with his brilliant cinematographer Sven Nykvist who could capture light like no other. There is a scene towards the end of the first episode where Alexnder is riding on a sledge with a flaming torch casting shadows on his face against the winter landscape and it has to be one of the loveliest I have ever seen. Probably the main reason though why I love it is because of its pure magic which is why I don’t wish to go into too much detail. In a world where so many things can be explained, dissected and objectified, I’m grateful that something manages to escape. This is an exquisitely crafted tapestry full of emotions and light. Simply watch it without any fixed ideas, alone or with friends, perhaps one evening when the wind is blowing strongly over the rooftops or perhaps after the first cold snap has left frost on the branches.

 

Kitchen stories

19 Mar

From the title alone, it won’t surprise you that Kitchen stories, or Salmer fra kjøkkenet in Norwegian, is a favourite of mine since I love all things culinary. Yet this isn’t a film simply about cooking but more about research, objectivity, loneliness and friendship. We find ourselves in 1950s Sweden where the Hemmets Forskningsinstitut (Home research Institute) is conducting studies into housewives, the equipment they use and the movements around the kitchen. It turns out that the average Swedish housewife goes the equivalent distance of Scandinavia to the Congo simply in one room but what about single men? This is the next task of the HFI; to travel to Norway and find out. Each male researcher will sit on a high chair to observe their subject’s cooking habits, drawing lines on the plans of the kitchen as they move around. They are forbidden to talk or interact with each other so the researchers will sleep in small caravans outside for the duration of the study. Cue a wonderful scene of identical cars pulling green tone caravans, changing from left to right as they cross over the border from Sweden to Norway, like an absurd camping trip.  Yet from the beginning, things are not quite so simple. Isaak, an antisocial Norwegian farmer, immediately regrets having agreed to take part in the survey yet eventually has to leave the front door open for Folke, his reasearcher,  to come and perch in the corner of his kitchen. Folke’s presence clearly makes Isaak uncomfortable and unable to behave normally which raises the question of how objective such a study can be. Can we really understand the behaviour of others without any social interaction? Little by little the two men find out how similar they are and how they need each other; the experiment has to be abandoned and the observer will become the observed.

It’s a wonderfully understated film without much dialogue but plenty of absurd situations and deadpan facial expressions, gently poking fun at the the idea of the documentary and the search for the ideal kitchen. There is no love story but instead friendship between real people who are no longer young which touches us more and more as the story progresses. Even if many of the scenes take place inside, the outdoor shots of snowy landscapes, tall forest trees and pale evening light are no less stunning. Every detail is beautifully researched; the cars, the clothes and the interiors and accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack, including the Delta Rhythm Boys singing about the girls in Småland (watch the video here). A friend also pointed out to me how exquisitely  clear the sounds in the film are; the crunching of chocolate which could be next to your ear, the filling of glasses with bourbon and the blowing out of birthday candles. At the end, it makes us realise that it’s these little moments and details in life that count and make it special.