Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Swedish Dark Arts

Sweden, for a country that's meant to be peaceful, prosperous, happy, healthy and intellectual, and famous for little else other than its two most famous acronyms – ABBA and IKEA – is producing some pretty amazing, odd and disturbing films and music.

Its cinema will forever be polarised by the intellectual, depressing films of Ingmar Bergman on the one hand and 1970s porn (though sadly the traditional blonde and busty Swedish au pair/masseur has been taken over by the busty Pole) on the other. The director Lukas Moodysson looks like he's bridging the gap. His first feature, Together, an amusing look at hippies in a 1970s commune, gave no indication of where he would go next. But Lilya 4-Ever (about a girl kidnapped into sex slavery), A Hole in my Heart (about the making of a porn film, intercut with close ups of female genital surgery) and Container ("a silent movie with sound" – his words) are some of the disturbing films ever granted a certificate.

Let the Right One in (Låt den rätte komma in), which we saw last night, is a beautifully shot and performed low-key vampire film. About the relationship between a pale, bullied 12-year-old boy and a girl with a fondness for blood, what's more disturbing than the blood count is the generally unhealthy looking chain-smoking characters, the bleak, barren snow-bound townscapes and the dreadful fashions (though to be fair it looks like it's set in the 1970s – that's what I'm hoping anyway).

Musically, bands are doing their best to banish the image of ABBA forever. The Guardian has said, 'no bad pop music comes out of Sweden in 2009'. There's the eerie, icy electro brilliance of Fever Ray and The Knife as well as more conventional acts like Peter Bjorn & John, Jenny Wilson and First Aid Kit turning out their brand of quirky pop.

The thing is, happiness gets boring. And people tend not to produce great art when they're happy. They're just busy being happy. Great art comes out of shit. Look at music and cinema in the mid-60s, at the height of flower power. In the States and UK at least, it was a dull time artistically with the whole peace and love ethos. By the end of the 1960s, The Wild Bunch, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones Altamont concert and The Doors seemed to capture the prevailing mood of The Vietnam War, race riots and Charles Manson – and produce great art too.

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