From a troubled past to a taste of eternity, two highly anticipated films from Sweden traveled to the prestigious Toronto Film Festival. One of them made a splash.
My Life as a Comedian (“En komikers uppväxt”), based on Jonas Gardell’s beloved novel, depicts a theme everyone recognizes: the role we get as children. In the early 1970s, 12-year-old Juha wants to be loved by everyone. As the class clown in the sleepy Stockholm suburb Sävbyholm, he struggles to fit in with both the cool kids and the bullied ones, and his Finnish foul-mouthed mother doesn’t make his life easier.
Almost entirely told in flashbacks, we follow the middle-aged Juha questioning the sometimes cruel actions of his past. Today Juha is a famous comedian and an unhappy soul—his past won’t escape him. Coming from such a compelling, profound, painful, funny, beautiful novel, this film adaptation is astonishingly flat. There is no nerve despite the intriguing story.
The director Rojda Sekersöz (“Dröm vidare”) clearly has a sense for details from the 70s (think blue curtains and brown wooden clogs), however, and she found the wonderful young actor Loke Hellberg to embody Juha. Johan Rheborg does what he can with the adult Juha, and Ulla Skog and Klara Zimmergren refreshingly steal scenes with their comic timing. In general, the film feels forced, overly explained and tonally uneven. Perhaps they simply should have chosen another of Jonas Gardell’s excellent novels for the screen.
On the other hand, Roy Andersson’s new film About Endlessness (“Om det oändliga”) proved to be an otherworldly experience. The 76-year-old Swedish filmmaker returns to Toronto, just after winning the director prize in Venice, with dry humor and profound awareness. As with his trilogy about “being a human being,” Andersson continues to examine our time here on earth with his signature aesthetic, weaving multiple visually striking vignettes into a whole cinematic package. Once again he blows your mind with deep focus tableau, static cameras, beautifully grey photo, non-linear narrative and silent satire—he is one of cinemas grand masters in the most innovative way.
This time around Andersson comments on how life is painful, limitless and beautiful, when he unleashes a desperate priest who lost his faith, an exhausted Hitler his last days, a flying couple over a ruined city and a dentist having a really bad day, among many other odd characters. It is morbidly funny, stunningly beautiful and philosophically thought provoking. After all, life is pretty absurd.

By Niclas Goldberg