What’s on the Scandinavian Mind? By Alf Kjetil Walgermo

in 17th Stockholm Film Festival

by Alf Kjetil Walgermo

The human mind seems to be a subject of interest for both film and literature these days. Not only has the well-known Italian author Umberto Eco just written a book about a man who looses his episodic memory; the human mind was also the theme for both Scandinavian feature films in the Stockholm International Film Festival’s main competition.

Sweden’s own Storm, directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, won the Audience Award in Stockholm. Danish director Christoffer Boe’s Allegro also participated in the main competition.

The bottom line in both films is amazingly similar, even if they develop in their own different ways. Firstly, the main character must get in touch with his feelings, and secondly, this should be done through a mystical journey back into the mental kingdom of childhood.

Storm is something as unusual – at least for a Scandinavian film – as “existential action”. From the very start we watch high pulse sequences which carry a strong resemblance to computer games and comic books.

A woman with red, curly hair is chased down the streets of Stockholm. She’s captured, sprinkled with gasoline, and almost killed, but gets loose, and keeps up the dramatic flight through the city.

At the same time, in a cab close-by, we can find the entertainment journalist DD. The mood of the film now changes, and we’re shown clips from DD’s childhood in his small hometown.

Then, suddenly, we’re back in action, when the red-haired girl escapes from her enemies in DD’s taxi. She gives him a little box of great importance – hold your seats! – it’s “the key … the key to everything.”

The box contains an important memory from DD’s past, which he has suppressed. Because of severe suppression of memories DD suffers from cynicism. He is actually not able to feel any emotions, not even physical pain. Through a journey back into his childhood mind, he searches for help to open the box. Opening it, we understand, will make him a better person.

There are some religious aspects to the film that are obvious but also interesting, such as the broken “vessel” in the potter’s hand. And although Storm cracks on quality here and there – for instance, in the way that important elements are introduced too late in the film – there are reasons to get involved. Storm asks an urgent question: do we live a real life? Which means: are we just pieces in a game; and is there a real life without love?

The same question rises in Christoffer Boes science fiction-inspired film Allegro, which is about a famous piano player named Zetterstrøm. The pianist is obsessed with perfection, and puts his whole past in a box (visualized physically through a cartoon clip) after failure in a relationship with a woman. Into the box go also his childhood and all his former relations.

After ten years as a lonely prima donna pianist, he returns to Copenhagen in search of his childhood, which – as the narrator (!) tells him – has been kidnapped (!!) and stored in a hermetically sealed area (!!!) in the Danish capital, called “The Zone”.

Given the absurdity of the plot so far, it’s really no wonder that Zetterstrøm manages to get inside The Zone by using a Ladies’ room as a teleport.

Boe, unlike Mårlind and Stein, explores the human mind with humour, and the screenplay was even originally written as a comedy. However, once things got going, the film ended up beyond categorization.

It is, however, interesting to note that both Swedish and Danish filmmakers pay interest to the theme of memory in such a similar way. Both films seem effected by psychoanalytic theory: the main characters have to walk the path of remembrance to get further on in their life – to become real human beings – to find the way to their own heart.

If nothing else, these two Scandinavian films could inspire us to do the same.