Swedish writer-director Bo Widerberg’s autobiographical final film before dying of cancer, Lust och fägring stor—literally, Lust and Great Beauty, but called All Things Fair in the U.S.—finds son Johan Widerberg (best actor, Rouen Nordic Film Festival) giving the performance of a lifetime as his father at 15 in 1943 Malmö, during the Second World War, in which Sweden’s neutrality competed with constant anxiety regarding possible invasion. Here, the schoolboy, named Stig, slips into a love affair, he, the aggressor, with his miserably married, 37-year-old teacher, Viola. (Viola and her spouse, and Stig, his parents and older brother, all live in in the same apartment building.) Eventually, schoolgirl Lisbet pries Stig away from Viola, who mentally disintegrates, seeking academic revenge against her star pupil.
This is a terrific narrative film, an instance where “visual storytelling” becomes genuine art because of the breathing fabric of reality it cuts and delivers. Its autobiographical element deepens its sorrows, binding it to Widerberg’s own successful “comeback” with it and soon-after death. Ironically, one of the film’s most moving scenes finds Stig, on a train, consoling his father following the death of his (Stig’s) brother. Widerberg could not have foreseen how his present and slight future would powerfully interact with the past he was endeavoring to call up. Both the film’s text and meta-text are forever wrapped up in Bo Widerberg’s life.
His son, Johan, gives a tremendous performance; it is part of Bo’s legacy that Johan’s career is ongoing. Excellent, also, are Marika Lagercrantz as Viola and Tomas von Brömssen as Kjell, her alcoholic, grotesquely self-pitying spouse, a traveling salesman.
Guldbagge Awards: best film; best direction.
Widerberg’s wonderful films are hard, even impossible, to find. Give us Raven’s End! Give us Adalen ’31! Give us Joe Hill!
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