A Film a Week - Stockholm, My Love

Can a city be the star of the film? I mean, why not, we have seen first two Linklater’s Before films, two Julie Delpy’s Linklater rip-offs, a precious indie pearl called Copenhagen and a number of others, compilations of shorts included. And that goes only for the fiction films, without mentioning hundreds of documentaries. But outside the title, a city was never properly credited as the star. Until now, that it is. In Stockholm, My Love, the first fiction feature foray by a renowned British documentarian Mark Cousins, finally puts the capital of Sweden in the opening credits, alongside the singer Neneh Cherry in her first film role.

She stars as Alva, a woman dodging her work for a day, walking around the city and narrating a story about the city and her relationship to it in a somewhat "malickian" voice-over, shifting her talk from the audience to her dead father and later to another dead man which is connected to her and her psychological trauma in the past. We see her melancholy right from the start on Cherry’s de-glamourised face in close-ups and we assume it has something to do with her father’s passing. But the national trauma of Olof Palme’s murder serves as a trigger to her own, an old man called Gunnar whom she hit and killed with her car a year earlier. Is she looking for redemption from some form of higher being? Is she trying just to live with herself and the guilt or just picking up the pieces of her shattered life by relying on the one thing left that she loves, her native city?

It is for her to know and for us to try to realize in this short “city symphony” not much unlike Cousins’ work in general and especially the documentaries shot in Belfast, Albania and Sardinia. The label “fiction” is highly questionable here, since the style is the one of the documentary with lots of historic buildings and squares, usually empty, and the feeling is the one of a novel, an elegant, introspective, reflexive, lyrical novel. It all blends fine and works well, much thanks to the city itself and its grayish weather helping the mood a lot.

Neneh Cherry as an actress is a nice surprise, even though her acting tasks are not tougher than ones she is used to for her video clips, aside narration. She definitely has some screen presence here. Stockholm-born and raised and fluent in Swedish, she propels the film into another realm when she switches from English to her mother tongue.

The very ending, in which we hear her song while watching the more beautiful and optimistic vistas of the city and surroundings, this time with people around, could also serve as a meditative music video. Soundtrack plays a great part here, and it is not all done by Cherry. (That would add a couple of other labels to the film, like conceptual album or music video.) Cousins also uses the music of Benny Andersson (from ABBA) and the classical composer Franz Berwald, which goes great with the cinematography done by Cousins himself and Christopher Doyle that highlights love for the city and cities in general and the interconnection between the distance and the intimacy. Even if you have never visited Stockholm, you will find it a place you can fall in love with nevertheless.

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