From Bergman to Moodysson, Swedish film has never shied away from tackling big, difficult issues, and is recognized for doing so with style and honesty. Swedish movies are often critically acclaimed (Some 180 awards at film festivals around the world in 2010 alone) and some go on to achieve commercial success outside the country.
The most famous Swedish filmmaker is Ingmar Bergman, described by Woody Allen as “probably the greatest film artist… since the invention of the motion picture camera.” Bergman’s films often had dark themes such as death, illness and insanity, and were played out against an equally bleak Swedish landscape. Bergman, who died in 2007 at the age of 89, won three Academy Awards during his career plus numerous other awards at Cannes and other film festivals.
No director — Swedish or otherwise — is ever likely to fill Bergman’s shoes, but several Swedish filmmakers and their work have attracted international attention. Lasse Hallström was nominated for two Oscars and won a Golden Globe for his 1988 film My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund). Similarly critically acclaimed was A Swedish Love Story (En kärlekshistoria), Roy Andersson’s 1970 debut about teenage love, which is today regarded as a classic of the genre.
One of today’s most prolific Swedish filmmakers is Lukas Moodysson, whose directorial breakthrough Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål) took more money at Sweden’s cinemas than the blockbuster Titanic when it was released in 1998. The film, which centers on two girls trapped in a small Swedish town where nothing ever happens, is a romantic drama praised for its emotional honesty and realism. It won Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival.
One of the most discussed Swedish films of recent years has been 2008’s Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in), a romantic horror movie about a 12-year-old boy who befriends a vampire girl in a Stockholm suburb. The film, based on a novel of the same name, won several prizes and achieved cult status abroad. It has been remade by Hollywood in English as Let Me In.
Documentaries are an important genre within Swedish cinema, and the nation’s documentary filmmakers have shown themselves to be skilled at addressing both everyday and controversial subjects. One example is Bananas! from 2009 about a conflict between the Dole Food Company and banana plantation workers in Nicaragua over alleged cases of sterility caused by the pesticide DBCP.
Swedes are enjoying great success in the international film world. Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has been nominated for three Academy awards, while the Millennium phenomenon has put Swedish actors like Noomi Rapace on the world stage.
Swedish cinema is known for its intensely personal meditations on the human condition, but the question has always been how to move from art house into the mainstream. Now a new generation of Swedish directors are making their mark with everything from feature-length productions to shorts and documentaries.
When actor Pernilla August made her widely-acclaimed debut as a film director at the Venice Film Festival with Beyond (Svinalängorna), Sweden acquired another distinguished woman in the director’s role. But while more women directors and producers have made a name for themselves in Swedish cinema in recent years, the industry is still a far cry from full gender equality.
Director Andreas Öhman’s feature film debut was not only acclaimed by both critics and audiences — Simple Simon (I rymden finns inga känslor) was also chosen as Sweden’s official Academy Award entry. In January 2011, the nominations for Best Foreign Film will be announced and we will know how this drama comedy about a young man with Asperger syndrome has fared.