Roy Andersson, described by The Village Voice as 'a slapstick Ingmar Bergman', who has directed only four features in forty years, first went behind the camera in 1970 with A Swedish Love Story. Whilst Andersson's recent films, Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007), have been experimental pieces, largely based around visually poetic vignettes, absurdist comedy and surreal non-narrative sketches peopled by Felliniesque grotesques, A Swedish Love Story is in comparison a much more linear and traditional romantic coming of age story. The shadow of Bergman is evident, and glimpses of Andersson's later stylistic pre-occupations are also present, but Andersson's subtly probing excavation of love,loneliness, marriage and regret is by no means a derivative or minor piece.
At the film's centre is the fledgling romance between teenagers Par (Rolf Sohlman) and Annika (Ann-Sofie Kylin) that blossoms as the adults around them struggle to reconcile themselves to unhappy marriages, thwarted ambitions and the pressures of social status. Andersson and his two young leads beautifully capture the awkwardness, overwhelming emotions, naivety and tenderness of an emerging first love. Peer pressure, tribal cliques, adult interference and differing social backgounds all come into play as the mutual affection and emotional bond grows between the pair. The supporting cast of characters, including Annika's bickering parents, their unfulfilled friends and Par's more stable but socially conservative family are the gloomy, but blackly comic, counterpoint to the physical, and symbolic, hopes and youthful promise of the leads.
Beginning and ending with extended family and friends gatherings, where, conversely, the Bergmanesque themes of isolation, loneliness and death are brought to the fore, A Swedish Love Story is a film in which the travails and pressures of living in a changing society are subtly addressed within an ostensibly light, romantic narrative framework. Anyone familiar with Andersson's extraordinary eye for visual composition and poetic imagery that mirrors the often absurd nature of everyday life will find those attributes clearly on show. The drawn out (anti) climax, featuring a fog bound search for Annika's drunk, depressed and spiritually lost father (a physical representation of contemporary society) is rich in symbolic weight, with the party guests desperately trying to locate the wayward parent and bring him back into the safety of a traditional, loving family home.Recently released on DVD, A Swedish Love Story is certainly of its time in relation to the fashions on display and the folkish country rock soundtrack, but its themes and emotional resonance are as relevant today as they were on its release.