When going to a movie theater at Sundance Film Festival in Utah’s Park City, one usually trudges in knee-deep snow while looking at gorgeous mountains. This year the prestigious Robert Redford-founded festival went virtual in the warm coziness of everyone’s homes. Three astonishing Swedish films were selected in the competitions.

First out is “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World,” a documentary about a Swedish film star destroyed by stardom. The shy 15-year-old Björn Andrésen’s life changes forever when he opens a hotel room door in Stockholm. It’s 1970 and he is about to be cast in “Death in Venice” (1971) by famous Italian director Luchino Visconti. Both the film and Björn’s face become worldwide sensations and overnight the teenager is thrown into a celebrity circus, encouraged by his grandmother, his only caretaker. We then meet Björn 50 years later in a dirty apartment in Stockholm, looking like an aging rock star with long grey hair covering his sad eyes. The filmmakers Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri have created an intimate and remarkable portrait, with a nuanced and poetic touch, of a tormented man and his unique and troubled ride through life.


Someone who yearns to be famous is the lead character Bella Cherry in the not-for-the-faint-hearted raw “Pleasure.” This narrative film, chosen by the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and competing for best Nordic film at Göteborg Film Festival, is an explicit portrayal of an ambitious 19-year-old from Sweden. After being asked upon her arrival at the airport if she came to the USA for business or pleasure, we follow her diving into the shadowy world of adult entertainment. She soon realizes it’s all business as she navigates male-dominated sets, predatory managers and newfound friends who are also competitors. The director Ninja Thyberg extends her own Cannes-winning short film as she examines the complexity and the absurd everydayness of a patriarchal industry. In this very graphic, undeniably frank yet layered film Sofia Kappel makes a fearless and challenging screen debut as Bella.

The last competing Swedish film shows a completely different female perspective. In the most dangerous camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria, brave volunteers risk their lives as they try to rescue very young Yazidi women and girls held captive by ISIS as sex slaves (Sabaya). This quietly devastating and heartbreaking documentary focuses on the volunteer organizers Mahmud and Ziada as they enter the camp with only a mobile phone and a gun in the middle of the night. Supported by SVT (Swedish television) and the Swedish Institute, the documentary makes it clear how the extreme cruelty of ISIS plays out, thousands of women and girls are kidnapped. Without talking heads or voice-overs we witness nerve-wracking and high stakes moments, but also some of the saved girls as they struggle with post-traumatic stress after years in hellish capture.
Hogir Hirori, one of Sweden’s most acclaimed filmmakers, who follows up the multi-award-winning “The Deminer” (2017), shows such extraordinary courage and talent that we can only bow and be grateful. Hirori won best director in the world cinema documentary category.
Niclas Goldberg