A Serious Game: Total eclipse of the heart
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2016: Pernilla August portrays complex passion based on a classic Swedish novel adapted by Danish screenwriter Lone Scherfig
In literature as in film, Love with a capital ‘L’ often creates as much happiness as it does heartbreak, most probably because its absoluteness does not adapt well to our lowly world, and vice versa. This is the predicament that Arvid and Lydia find themselves in, the protagonists of the latest film by Swedish actress and director Pernilla August, A Serious Game [+see also:
film profile], which was adapted from a novel by Hjalmar Söderberg, published in 1912, by Danish director and screenwriter Lone Scherfig and presented in the Berlinale Special section of the 66th Berlin Film Festival.
When they meet, Arvid (Sverrir Gudnason) is a proofreader for the cultural page of a big Swedish newspaper, and Lydia, the only child of a landscape painter living by a lake, lives a pastoral and free existence in which being destitute doesn’t prevent her from being happy, as drawing and swimming naked in the clear water are life’s biggest pleasures. As soon as they see each other it’s love at first sight, a love that seems the most natural and simple thing in the world, like the clumsy little tune they play together with two fingers on Lydia’s old piano, with surprising sensuality given the modest contact between them. But when this young lady becomes an orphan and they confess their love for one another in a few looks and a soft kiss, Arvid declares that although marrying her is what he wants most in the world, he just can’t do it, for lack of funds, and hopes with all his heart that she understands, which she initially says she does, as a polite reflex, before correcting herself and admitting that she doesn’t.
As young Lydia seems to sense with her reply, as short and clear as it is eloquent, the simplicity of their love is, from that moment forth, lost forever. When they meet again by chance ten years later at the theatre, Lydia feels the burning gaze of Arvid, who has become a critic for all the shows held in Stockholm, on the back of her neck. Both of them have married for convenience and have a daughter each, named Marianne and Anne-Marie respectively – as the unbreakable bond between their two hearts has found other ways, undetectable to others, to take form, despite their separation. Arvid lives with Dagmar, a sweet young woman surrounded by lovely relatives, spirited and easy-going, and Lydia lives with an older rich man. Even so, in an instant, their desire for one another, to physically be with one another, is clear, eclipsing all possible objections.
The image of the eclipse returns later on, because the decision that Arvid failed to make ten years earlier, when he and his lover were poor but free, would now go against the families and worlds that he and Lydia have built for themselves separately, and would betray partners and children, among others. At a time when divorce is a less common affair and not accepted lightly by society (without mentioning the heartbreak is causes) and when asking a woman to initiate one as well as going through one would seem utterly selfish, our lovers’ passion can only exist in the shadows, or in isolation, or in exchange for great sacrifice. The independence that Arvid and Lydia, who are ahead of their time, seek (a theme we see from Lone Scherfig in An Education [+see also:
film profile]) has a different price for him than it does for her, a different price for them than for those around them. Unlike that day of summer way back when spent playing the piano and smiling, their little game of love and chance has become a serious affair.
(Translated from French)