I had heard bad things about this film, I’m not sure where, but they were completely disconnected from my experience. I enjoyed it!
There’s something interesting that happens when something that was previously shocking has been around for a while.
Once the shock wears off, all that’s left to examine is the thing itself. This wasn’t allowed to be a movie when it came out. Instead it was something else, something perverse and controversial.
That was a long time ago though, and what was considered obscene then doesn’t have quite the same sting. Now we can finally focus on the film, which is revolutionary in ways that have nothing to do with what upset people then. It has elements that are still fairly uncommon today.
This film tells the story of Lena, a woman who is interested in learning about everything, and who feels a strong sense of activism and justice. It also tells the story of Lena, an actress who wants to get her first big break in the movies.
The story layers at least three distinct films on top of one another. There’s the story of one young woman learning about herself and the world. There’s a cinéma vérité sort of thing about contemporary Swedish society and its mores. Finally there’s a meta story about the making of the film, where the director is played by himself.
A lot of this feels very Godard-ish, in both good and less good ways.
What was so controversial about the film at the time was its explicit nudity and portrayal of simulated sexual encounters. Of special note was the presence of a flaccid penis, and Lena kissing said penis. Honestly, that’s still pretty surprising today.
While female nudity, and even to some extent male nudity, has become far more commonplace, the honest sexuality of this film is rare. What’s even more interesting about it, is that it’s not portrayed in any kind of sanitized or perfect way.
That’s what I found to still be so interesting. This is a bit like Tiny Furniture in its allowing a non-movie-star-conventionally attractive woman to be the object of desire. To acknowledge that she exists and has her own needs.
Lena’s mention of her fight with a lack of self-importance, and feelings of physical inadequacy, are still potent. The inclusion of sex and nudity in a relationship is something that feels real and vital. We still don’t see this level of honesty very often.
This is what real life often looks like, and it’s incredible to see it in a film that came out over fifty years ago. I just wish we had advanced a little farther already. In so many ways, it feels like we’ve kind of stopped progressing.