Sweden Cinematography – the End of the War and the 1950s
According to searchforpublicschools, the postwar period confirmed the trend towards greater realism of representation. Alf Sjöberg, one of the leading directors of the period, successfully directed Bara en mor (Only one mother, 1949), based on the novel by I. Lo Johansson, a female drama starring Eva Dahlbeck. The film caused a certain scandal abroad for a sequence in which the protagonist was bathing naked. In Sweden, on the other hand, where the naked body has always been considered an integral part of nature, no controversy whatsoever was recorded, but this did not prevent Swedish cinema from being considered licentious in many countries. This fame was certainly reinforced by works such as Hon dansade en sommar (1951; He danced only one summer) by Arne Mattsson, in which the sexuality of the young protagonist is represented with great freedom, and by Bergman’s Sommaren med Monika (1953; Monica and desire) (also in this case there was a nude sequence, which in Italy was censored). The progressive relocation of many Swedes from small towns to large cities also favored the production of a series of films which, in different forms and ways, represented country life. Svensk Filmindustri’s biggest hit in the immediate postwar period was Gustaf Edgren’s Driver dagg, faller regn (1946; Rebel Blood), played by the two young actors Mai Zetterling and Alf Kjellin, both destined for a brilliant career. This film celebrated the values and traditions of the peasants with a strong romantic sense. The aforementioned Hon dansade en sommar was instead nostalgic, in which an idyllic representation of the countryside prevailed as opposed to the chaos and greyness of the city. Naturally, there was no shortage of farces that mocked the now obsolete customs of the province where the city was instead the symbol of modernity. In this regard, the public approval received by the series of Åsa-Nisse, a literary character conceived by the writer Sweden Cederholm, brought to the cinema for the first time by the director Ragnar W. Frisk with the eponymous film Åsa-Nisse (1949). The series continued until 1969 recording a total of twenty-seven episodes, all starring John Elfström. From a strictly industrial point of view, Swedish cinema entered a crisis following some economic policy measures introduced by the Social Democratic government. The devaluation of the Swedish krona led to an increase in the purchase price of virgin and foreign-produced films; the rise in the average wage level raised production costs; state price controls prevented ticket increases at the box office. In addition, the Swedes were encouraged to invest in movable and immovable property, and many families began saving to buy their first car.
When the tax on cinema receipts went from 24 to 39% in 1948, in the spring of 1951 the producers called for a strike that totally stopped making new films. The government then decided to allocate 20% of this tax to support film production. In 1959, three years after the birth of television, the tax dropped to 25% and half of the proceeds went to the film industry. In 1956, however, there were about eighty million paying spectators and distributors decided to open new theaters, especially in the suburbs and in the newly created dormitory cities. However, television reached over two million families in less than ten years and the cinema entered a crisis. A certain production immobility, the lack of new genres and a very severe criticism of directors who tried new paths, such as Sjöberg, Bergman and even Faustman who in 1948 had directed Främmande hamn (Foreign Port), a film contributed to the decrease in receipts. decidedly socialist. The authors of the new generation rejected the concept of the director-craftsman who works on commission and became supporters of their projects which they presented from time to time to the various producers hoping for their approval. Thus it was that Bergman found his screenplay of Gycklarnas afton (1953; A Flare of Love) rejected by Svensk Filmindustri, later accepted by Sandrews. It can be said that the public of the 1950s was divided into three distinct categories: families, young people and enthusiasts. The first category was of course the one who was very easily seduced by television and who loved old-fashioned comedies, set in the middle class or in the entertainment world, often enriched by music and songs. Some directors, above all Hasse Ekman, they enjoyed parodying radio or television programs, as in Sjunde himlen (1956, Settimo cielo) and its sequel entitled Himmel och pannkaka (1959, Paradiso e frittelle). The big hits of the genre were Torgny Anderberg’s Lille Fridolf och jag (1956, Little Fridolf and I), based on a radio series, which grossed over three million crowns, and the sentimental comedy Änglar, finns dom… (1961, Angels Exist…) by Lars-Magnus Lindgren, seen by two million and eight hundred thousand Swedes. The second category was the most difficult to satisfy.
Young people especially loved American cinema and James Dean characters. Swedish producers tried, sometimes with laughable results, to imitate them with feature films that depicted ‘burnt youth’ involved in mysterious or violent events. Examples of this were Danssalongen (1955, Ballroom) by Börje Larsson and Raggare! (1959, I rockers) by Olle Hellbom, the latter clearly inspired by Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a cause (1955; Scorched youth). For the little ones, numerous film transpositions of the novels of the popular author A. Lindgren were prepared, such as the series of Inspector Blomkvist inaugurated by Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist (1947, Chief Inspector Blomkvist) by Rolf Husberg. The thrillers set in the small and apparently quiet towns of the province were, moreover, the specialty of the director Mattsson who gave his best proofs with Damen i svart (1958, The woman in black) and Ljuvlig är sommarnatten (1961, Dolce è la notte d summer), from the popular novel by M. Lang. These films were heavily indebted to the lesson of Hollywood noir also in the use of a depth of field and highly contrasted lighting, exquisitely created by director of photography Tony Forsberg. The third category of audience was that which, in the 1960s, gave a decisive impetus to the change in Swedish cinema. Sandrews, who had Rune Waldekranz as a consultant, wrongly thought of meeting the tastes of a more difficult audience by revitalizing the literary genre. In 1951 Sjöberg won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with Fröken Julie (Night of Pleasure), an excellent adaptation of Strindberg’s play. Waldekranz’s second project, Bergman’s Gycklarnas afton, was a commercial failure. The same fate had Barabbas (1953), again from Sjöberg, from the novel by the Nobel laureate P. Lagerkvist. At this point Anders Sandrew decided to abandon this kind of projects, too expensive and of no interest to the public. On the other hand, the documentary on the life of animals Det stora äventyret (1953, The Great Adventure) by Arne Sucksdorff, who had already won an Oscar in 1947 with the short film Människor i stad (1946, Men in the city), had remarkable results. Svensk Filmindustri also recorded poor results with its color literary films, Herr Arnes penningar (1954, Arne’s treasure) and Sången om den eldröda blomman (1956, The song of the scarlet flower), both by Molander and already brought to the cinema by Stiller. However, the large Swedish production company was lucky enough to make most of Bergman’s inexpensive and extraordinarily successful films abroad. Sommarnattens leende (1955; Smiles of a summer night), Det sjunde inseglet (1957, The seventh seal) – winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival – the aforementioned Smultronstället and Ansiktet (1958; The face) – prize of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1959 – established him as one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema and his works, even those of the past, obtained a wide distribution abroad and were at the center of critical reflection for decades. His cinema had essentially no relationship with the rest of the Swedish production of the 1940s and 1950s. If anything, it was influenced by the great Nordic theatrical and literary tradition and by the great authors of silent cinema (it is no coincidence that Sjöström was chosen as the protagonist of Smultronstället).