Swedish film stirs Hollywood imagination

It’s notoriously difficult for European filmmakers to make it big in the US, particularly with non-English language films. But now Sweden’s filmmakers are echoing the successes of its authors and actors in winning over American audiences, writes Lee Martin.

Swedish film stirs Hollywood imagination

Lagom. This favourite word of Swedes, which means ‘just enough’, sums up Swedes’ love of moderation. It could have been coined to explain Swedish films’ astonishing recent international success.

The Millennium trilogy, Snabba Cash, the Wallander series and the vampire movie “Låt den rätte komma in” are leading the Swedish film industry’s latest charge into international markets, in the most successful period for Swedish film since the height of Ingmar Bergman’s career. What they offer for North American audiences is a world that’s not too exotic, but just exotic enough.

An English-language remake of the first movie in the Millenium series is currently being planned. Author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy centers round a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. In the first book, the duo work together in finding a missing woman and stumble upon a serial killer during their search.

The books have become the biggest publishing phenomenon in the US since Harry Potter, and filmmakers hope the movies will have a similar impact.

The Swedish production company behind the Millennium trilogy movies, Yellow Bird, is also behind the Wallander series, another hit novel series originally filmed for Swedish TV and later turned into a BBC production starring Kenneth Branagh. Like the Millennium series, Henning Mankell’s Wallander books depict a dark world of crime and social alienation lurking under the serene surface of Swedish society.

But why has Swedish film become so successful?

Pia Lundberg, head of the foreign department at the Swedish Film Institute, tells The Local that success has bred success for Swedish film:

“We have seen an increase in interest for Swedish movies, producers, directors and actors. We have had some successful films in the US, which has made it easier for the US market to get involved with more Swedish movies,” says Lundberg.

Swedish actors such as Alexander Skarsgård have certainly helped raise the profile of the country’s film industry:

“I think the Swedish film industry is more aware that there is a global market for their movies and therefore works more towards an international audience,” she says.

The first part of the Millenium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has so far grossed over $6 million in the US alone, despite being in Swedish. The language and the fact that the settings of the movies are unfamiliar to US audiences appeared not to do any harm.

Strong movies such as the Millenium trilogy have paved the way for other movies and have resulted in a higher interest in everything Swedish in the film world.

The latest example is the Swedish movie “Låt den rätte komma in”, about the friendship between a young boy, Oskar, and his vampire neighbor, Eli, which has been remade as Let the Right One In with Matt Reeves as the director. Filming and post-production are completed, and the movie is waiting for it’s premier date. The English version of the movie will most likely be shown in Sweden as well, says Lundberg.

Movies such as Let the Right One In and the Millenium trilogy have succeeded by offering really original plotlines, Lundberg argues:

“Another reason Sweden might appeal to a US audience is that Sweden is just exotic enough. There is enough there for the audience to relate to, but it is still outside the US,” she says.

Another movie likely to be remade is Snabba Cash, based on the novel of the same name by Jens Lapidus. The book tells the story of three characters who join forces to sell the drugs to earn some quick money. The main protagonist is interested in funding his extravagant lifestyle and club hopping in Stockholm’s Stureplan district. The English version of the movie will most likely be transferred to a US setting, and Zac Efron is being spoken of as the leading man, JW. The Swedish movie will be released in the US sometime at the beginning of next year, at the same time as the book.

“The main reason for showing the Swedish movie first is because they think it’s a good movie and will draw a crowd. It’s as simple as that,” Fredrik Wikström, producer of the original Snabba Cash at Tre Vänner Production Company, tells The Local.

The rights to remake Snabba Cash were sold to Warner Brothers at an auction in April. While there is no guarantee that the US version will ever see the light of day, the film should be easy to transfer to an American setting, says Wikström, and he thinks the US audience will be able to relate to it.

What he has no doubt about is the general level of interest for Swedish film in Hollywood:

“They certainly have their eyes on Sweden, It wouldn’t surprise me if more movies from Sweden are remade into English versions.”

Whether the English-language versions retain their Swedish settings is another matter. The Millennium films could well be made in Stockholm due to the integral part the books’ Swedish setting plays in the plotline. Other remakes are more likely to be set elsewhere:

“If there is something exotic in the setting of the book, then I think they might keep the original Swedish setting for the adaptations but not otherwise,” he says.

But the key ingredient enabling Swedish movies to attract a US audience is that they are well-written thrillers, Wikström believes. The current movies being adapted do not show a representative picture of Sweden but rather a small, dark part of Sweden.

“It is the excitement and suspense the US crowd want, and that is what appeals to them about these movies,” says Wikström.

The continued success of Swedish novels and Swedish Hollywood actors means Sweden’s film industry’s run of luck in Hollywood could continue for some time to come.

Note: we initially stated that ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ had grossed over $90 million in the US. The figure is in fact $6 million. The article has now been corrected.

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How a Swedish film festival is offering a nurse downtime during pandemic

A front-line Swedish nurse is getting some Covid downtime with a week of private screenings of the Gothenburg film festival, in a former lighthouse off the country's west coast.

How a Swedish film festival is offering a nurse downtime during pandemic
Competition winner Lisa Enroth.

More than 12,000 candidates from 45 countries applied to watch the festival's films in almost near isolation on an island 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Stockholm.

The prize is a week viewing as many of the festival's 70 premieres as they like in a hotel in the former Pater Noster Lighthouse. But they will be in isolation and will have no access to their own computer or laptop.

READ ALSO: Decision on stricter restrictions for foreign travellers to be made quickly

The bright-red lighthouse, built on a tiny island off Sweden's west coast in 1868, is surrounded by a scattering of squat, red buildings originally built to house the lighthouse keeper's family. It can only be reached by boat or helicopter, depending on the weather.

After a series of interviews and tests, festival organisers chose emergency nurse and film buff Lisa Enroth for the prize, in keeping with the 2021 festival's theme, Social Distances.

Before boarding a small speedboat out to the island on the clear, chill winter's morning, Enroth said she had applied not only out of her love for the cinema, but also to seek respite from her hectic work as an emergency nurse during the pandemic.

“It has been hectic, so it's a nice opportunity just to be able to land and to reflect over the year,” she said.

Months working amid Covid crisis

Sweden, which has taken a light-touch approach to the pandemic compared to its neighbours, has been facing a stronger than expected second wave of the virus. So far, more than 11,500 people have died from Covid-19 across the country.

Enroth works in the emergency ward of a hospital in Skovde in central Sweden. Since the start of the pandemic, her hospital's work caring for virus patients on top of their regular workload has been intense.

Lisa Enroth on her way to the remote festival location. Photo: AFP

“We had a lot of Covid cases during this year and every patient that has been admitted to the hospital has been passing through the emergency ward,” she told journalists.

The organisers said they were surprised by the numbers of applicants for the prize but were confident they had chosen the right candidate — not only for her love of cinema.

“She has also dedicated this past year in the frontline against the Covid-19 pandemic,” the festival's creative director Jonas Holmberg said to AFP.

“That's also one of the reasons we chose her”. 

Isolated screenings

Boarding the boat dressed in a thick survival suit, Enroth sped over the calm, icy waters, jumping off in the island's tiny harbour and disappearing into her lodgings.

A screen has been set up in the lantern room at the top of the windswept island's lighthouse, offering a 360-degree view of the sea and coastline around.

Another wide screen has been set up in one of the island's buildings.

Enroth will also have a tablet and headphones if she wants to watch films elsewhere on the island, which measures just 250 metres by 150 metres.

With only one other person staying permanently on the island — a safety precaution — Enroth's only contact with the outside world will be through her video diary about the films she has viewed.

The festival's films will be shown online and two venues in Gothenburg itself will allow screenings for just one person at a time.

Holmberg, the festival's creative director, said he hoped events like these would maintain interest in the industry at a time when many screens are closed because of pandemic restrictions.

“We are longing so much to come back to the cinemas and in the meantime we have to be creative and do the things that we can to create discussion,” he told journalists.