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14 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Fifty years ago this October a Swedish film, not signed by Ingmar Bergman, captured the heart of audiences around the world. “Elvira Madigan” was directed by Bo Widerberg, a full-blown romantic despite his trenchant essays on society and cinema, who by his mid-30s had established himself as a counterweight to Bergman’s massive influence in Swedish cinema. Widerberg had delivered a waspish attack on the Master’s metaphysical cinema, in which man is either humbled or exalted, and which Widerberg judged out of touch with the everyday reality of a Sweden struggling to assert itself as a modern democracy, an “experiment in welfare” as he termed it.

. . . .

The true story of Sixten Sparre and Hedvig Jensen, with embellishment through the years, had become almost legend in Denmark. She, a tightrope artist performing with her stepfather’s circus, had met the Swedish nobleman Count Sparre while on tour in southern Sweden during the late 19th century. Both succumbed to a coup de foudre, but their stricken affair proved stillborn, for Sixten was married and the gulf between their social classes unbridgeable. They committed suicide together on the Danish island of Tåsinge.

Widerberg worked from a mere 25-page script, without dialogue. He gave his actors Thommy Berggren and Pia Degermark their lines about three minutes prior to shooting, so as to endow them with an immediacy, if not spontaneity. The 17-year-old Degermark won the Best Actress prize at Cannes that year.

. . . .

At first look, “Elvira Madigan” appears a mere wisp of romantic agony, its tale too trite to bear the weight of analysis. But in terms of sound and imagery, it’s an abiding classic. Jörgen Persson’s cinematography catches the breath with its gorgeous, shimmering palette derived from a Swedish summer. Its textural grace is tinged with Scandinavian premonitions of death—the raspberries and cream signaling the intensity of happiness, the gurgle of spilled wine prefiguring the final loss of blood and vitality. Silence is used to great effect, and natural sounds, such as the buzz of bees or the soughing of wind in the trees, give the film an extra dimension. Widerberg’s use of the Andante from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major matched the dreamlike melancholy of Sixten and Elvira’s ill-fated journey.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG is surprised a DVD exists.



One Comments to “Elvira”

  1. What memories! I watched this with my Dad when he visited me in the States many years ago – and remember wondering whether he was shocked as we watched it, and being slightly surprised that he made no comment.

    I wish the clip had shown the circus parts – I seem to remember tightrope walking with an umbrella. Must go look for it. The title has stayed with me all these years.

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