Scenes from two marriage
by Camillo de Marco
15/09/2009 - Forgetting Bergman: this is the persistent concern of young Swedish filmmakers, who work in the shadow of the great master from Uppsala. Jörgen Bergmark, who presents his debut feature after making various shorts and co-writing and co-producing Bent Hamer’s multiple award-winning Kitchen Stories, has unashamedly tackled subjects close to Bergman’s heart: marriage, betrayal, interpersonal relationships, loneliness, existential crises and religious ethics. He approaches them in a light-hearted way, offering a comedy with tragic notes that will capture the attention of any adult who has ever been in love.
Focusing on characters in their fifties, Bergmark tells the story of a couple who live in an industrial town in northern Sweden. He, Erland, works at the local sawmill, while she, May, is a piano teacher. In their free time, they lead a discussion group about marriage, which is held in the town’s Pentecostal church and attended by couples in crisis.
Erland has a colleague, Sven-Erik, whom he saved some years ago from a suicide attempt. At a party, Erland is introduced to his colleague’s wife, Karin, and there’s an immediate spark between them. In a simple yet masterly scene, the two meet in a supermarket car-park and, although initially reluctant to commit adultery, they give in to their passion on the car seat.
Convinced that honesty is the best policy, Erland decides to come up with a "rational solution". Having brought together all respective partners, the stout factory worker suggests that all four of them live together and wait until this "crush" passes. Incredibly, the two cheated partners agree and, along with the two lovers, set out ten basic rules for cohabitation.
But it isn’t easy falling asleep to the creaking sound of the bed where your wife is enjoying herself with your friend. Sven-Erik and May’s nerves soon fall apart, giving way to jealousy, and the situation comes to a head.
The success of A Rational Solution [trailer, film focus], co-written by Bergmark and Jens Jonsson (who came to attention in 2008 with The King of Ping Pong [trailer]), is also down to the performance of its four protagonists. In the role of Karin, Pernilla August, who was discovered by Ingmar Bergman and cast as the nanny in Fanny and Alexander (1982) and is now a highly sought-after Scandinavian actress, captures all the uncertainties and bursts of enthusiasm of a woman who has suddenly fallen head over heels for a man. Rolf Lassgård, a popular actor among Swedish audiences, is an honest Erland, unaware of his power over the other three.
Meanwhile, highly-talented Stina Ekblad, who is part of the long-standing Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre company, is understated as May, in her pain at the betrayal of a husband she loves dearly. However, the best surprise comes from Claes Ljungmark (as Sven-Eric), an extremely versatile character actor, who masterfully conveys the weakness, religious doubts, instability and tenderness of an individual who feels cut in two like the enormous blocks of paper that are divided up in his factory.
Although full of ironic touches, A Rational Solution maintains a subtle melancholy often found in Swedish cinema. The young director, who is already working on another story of amorous passion, has chosen working class, not middle class, protagonists for his film about hypocrisy and the need to overturn the established order.