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CPH:DOX 2023

Review: Vintersaga


- Carl Olsson’s documentary is a social kaleidoscope of modern-day Sweden shot through with Scandinavian laconism, showing that the way we act in front of the camera is now the same all over the world

Review: Vintersaga

What’s immediately striking about Vintersaga [+see also:
film profile
– screening in Dox:Award, CPH:DOX’s international competition – is the scope of its ambitions: capturing modern-day Sweden in all its diversity and contradictions, as set out in the film’s logline. Carl Olsson’s documentary is divided into 24 distinct scenes based upon verses from Swedish musician Ted Ström’s song of the same name released in 1984. Usually, documentaries home in on just one theme in order to better dissect it, from an original angle if possible. What we have here is a linear sequence of fixed shots, and if it weren’t a film it could also be a comic strip depicting a certain country’s geography.

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It’s hard to list all 24 of the “cartoons” in question: some are more memorable, some last a few seconds, others slip away yet wind their way into your mind, almost subliminally; nigh-on all of them are hypnotic, thanks to Mathias Døcker’s photography which frames the performance space with permissive rigour and unmistakeably Scandinavian laconism. But we can’t not mention the small group of men who get their kicks burning rubber around a trading estate in a souped up BMW; the elderly couple who birdwatch on a rock beneath a lighthouse and are lucky enough to glimpse a purple sandpiper; the nostalgic group who get together to celebrate His Majesty the King with a meal and the royal anthem (“From the depth of Swedish hearts…”); the two brothers who work in a restaurant in Stockholm’s Johanneshov district and chat in the alley during their cigarette break; the two young women in a car trying out Sephora’s Rituals range; the two customs officers freezing from the cold in a dark street; the two guys drinking beers together, who haven’t seen one another for thirty years, when one of them says: “I’m sorry for bullying you when we were eight”; a pair of lovers drinking and talking about marriage, and who find themselves making love in a hotel room shortly afterwards; the two elderly women in the street listing who’s died that week (“Gunnar… he was over 90 years old”); the team of the “Lasse Maja” ferry in Marstrand talking about where to go for lunch… They’re rapid sketches, fired off in a handful of seconds; a social kaleidoscope whose elements all have one thing in common: the cold. At a certain point, something slightly unsettling happens: first, a man with a dog poses in front of a wall on which we see a poster for the very film we’re watching, and then two girls chat in front of what seems to be the little Centrumbio film club in Arjeplog, where we subsequently see that this same movie is being screened inside, documentary within documentary-style; to be exact, the two girls on scooters who were chatting, shortly before, about the fact that man has only explored 5% of space, just like in a David Lynch film or the convex mirror in Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait.

Ultimately, the question is this: how much of what we’ve seen portrays a specific country, or are the boundaries of reality increasingly blurred, straying into the global imaginary? Can two young women not talk about aromas in the same way in Stockholm as they would in Marrakech? Or boys not sing the praises of the team they support in Liverpool, or talk about what they’d do with 10 million (kroner, euros, dollars)? Maybe this is what the documentary tells us: that the way we see ourselves, the way we act in front of the camera, in front of a neutral observer (even if documentary makers will never be entirely neutral) has changed everywhere and in the same way, and no-one is innocent any more. After all, it’s been almost 60 years since Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Love Meetings

Vintersaga was produced by Ginestra Film in co-production with Film i Väst, Filmpool Nord and Final Cut for Real. International sales are entrusted to CAT&Docs.

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(Translated from Italian)

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