HALSTROM SHINES IN THE SWEDISH CINEMA : Director Moves From TV to Thrillers to Light Films in Post-Bergman Generation
For years Swedish film seemed to begin and end with Ingmar Bergman. There were always others, of course, including Bo Widerberg (“Elvira Madigan”), Jan Troell (“The Emigrants”) and Vilgot Sjoman, the one-time Bergman assistant who then did “I Am Curious Yellow.”
Still the Bergman light was bright and obscuring. But now time has passed, Bergman has retired from film making and a post-Bergman generation is at hand.
Lasse Hallstrom, whose charming and affecting “My Life as a Dog,” is just opening here, confesses that Bergman was indeed, neither an inspiration nor an influence. Nothing personal, Hallstrom says, it is just that his own forte has been light entertainment, and his originating medium was television.
“My Life as a Dog” is his sixth feature, but his first to have an American distributor (Skouras Films). One earlier film, “A Lover and His Lass,” was shown at a festival of Scandinavian films in New York.
Hallstrom was born and raised in Stockholm and made his first film, a 10-minute thriller shot in 8-millimeter, when he was 10. His father was an amateur film maker. Hallstrom was 16 and still in school when he sold a short documentary he’d done on a pop group to television.
He spent 10 years making short film inserts, mostly on music groups, for Swedish television, handling the camera and doing the editing himself.
“Television was my film school,” he said at lunch during a Los Angeles visit this week. He briefly attended a university, but dropped out because the career beckoned.
In 1974, a producer invited him to try his hand writing and directing a boy-meets-girl comedy.
“That’s what he said, literally, boy meets girl,” Hallstrom says. Hallstrom took him literally and the result was his first feature, “A Lover and His Lass.”
“ABBA--The Movie” was his second feature, and then he did three comedies that were doubly domestic: They dealt with love, marriage, parenthood and divorce, and they were distinctly Swedish.
“I tried to be low-key and subtle,” Hallstrom says. “Unfortunately, comedy tends to be local and particular; it doesn’t export well, and I didn’t export.”
His producer, Waldemar Bergendahl, introduced him to Reidar Jonsson’s massive 1983 autobiographical novel, “My Life as a Dog,” a mixture of comic and tragic elements, set in a small Swedish village dominated by a glass factory and recounting a boy’s painful coming of age amid family woes.
Hallstrom, Jonsson and two other writers wrestled the long, episodic novel into filmable dimensions and Hallstrom shot it in 1985, using a mixture of professionals and amateurs. The glass-blowers played themselves.
“We could get the glass-blowers to act a bit,” Hallstrom says, “but not the other way around, I think.”
The boy, Anton Glanzelius, who is the center of the film, is the son of an actress and a jazz musician in Gothenberg and was 11 when the film was made.
“He has a good inheritance,” Hallstrom says. He had previously done only a small part in a television series in which his mother appeared, but he won the Swedish equivalent of an Oscar for this role.
“My Life as a Dog” is still very specifically Swedish, but in its melding of emotional elements, it is as universal in its appeal as Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” (with which there are the most admirable resonances).
“The ultimate goal of any film maker is to make his audience laugh and cry at the same time,” Hallstrom says. “Then he can think he has really touched his audience. The laughter and the tears are the same here as in Sweden, maybe a little louder. So now I can stop making films: I’ve touched my audience.”
But in fact he has made two more films since “My Life as a Dog”: “The Children of Bullerby Village” (1986) and “More About the Children of Bullerby Village” (1987), both from characters created by Astrid Lindgren, who wrote “Pippi Longstocking.”
The Swedish film industry, with a home audience of 8 million and a total Scandinavian audience of 20 million, turns out 15 films a year and has to scramble to stay afloat financially. But it is obviously alive and well, and capable of affecting viewers a fair way from Stockholm.