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30 Swedish movies you must see before you die

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30 Swedish movies you must see before you die
Liv Ullman and Max von Sydow in The Emigrants. Photo: Skånereportage/Pressens bild
06:59 CEST+02:00
Everyone is familiar with big hitters like Let the Right One In and the Millennium trilogy, but Sweden's cinema is much more than the blockbusters. To help us grasp the soul of Swedish film, expert Christian Ekvall picks out 30 Swedish movies to see before you die.

1. The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström, 1921)

The ultimate horror classic, based on a tale by Selma Lagerlöf. The director also starred in it, 36 years before his final performance in Wild Strawberries.

2. Frenzy (Alf Sjöberg, 1944)

AKA Torment. The pupils are afraid of their teacher in the film that started Ingmar Bergman's career in cinema (as a script writer and assistant director).

3. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

One of numerous possible early Bergman choices. This film is the reason Swedes have a clear picture of what Death looks like – and the reason singer-songwriter and Bergman buff Scott Walker moved to Europe. Star Max von Sydow would later play the title role of The Exorcist.

4. Raven's End (Bo Widerberg, 1963) 

An aspiring writer gets his hopes smashed in this piece of kitchen sink realism set and shot in a working-class area of Malmö. Further watching: Pram AKA The Baby Carriage (1963).

5. Hunger (Henning Carlsen, 1966)

A starving writer, recognizable as Knut Hamsun, starts losing it in late 19th century Oslo (then called Christiania, confusingly). Actor Per Oscarsson's first masterpiece, as well as Paul Auster's favourite movie. A Scandinavian co-production.

6. I Am Curious – Yellow (Vilgot Sjöman, 1967)

A political and experimental film that cemented the view of Swedish cinema as scandalous.

7. Who Saw Him Die? (Jan Troell, 1968)

The counterpart to Frenzy, in which another teacher is afraid of his pupils. Set and shot in Malmö with Per Oscarsson and a real-life school class.


Per Oscarsson (left) on the set of Who Saw Him Die? in 1968. Photo: Roony Johansson/TT

8. Doctor Glas (Mai Zetterling, 1968)

Obsession and paranoia in actor Oscarsson's third masterpiece. Adaptated from a novel by Hjalmar Söderberg.

9. Language of Love (Torgny Wickman, 1969)

The movie that Travis Bickle brings his date to see in Taxi Driver. Actually a quite serious sexual education film.

10. Harry Munter (Kjell Grede, 1969)

What to do with a genius son prone to playing with death? A lost gem waiting to be rediscovered.

11. A Swedish Love Story (Roy Andersson, 1970)

Sweet first love in Andersson's debut, not half as bleak as the films that brought him international fame. Further watching: Songs from the Second Floor (2000).

12. The Emigrants/The New Land (Jan Troell, 1971/1972)

A double epic about the Swedish mass emigration to the US circa 1900. Nominated for five Oscars. Further watching: This Is Your Life (1966).

13. The Stone Face (Jan Halldoff, 1973)

Sweden's answer to A Clockwork Orange. Beats Halldoff's more famous film, Jack (1976).

14. They Call Her One Eye (Bo Arne Vibenius, 1974)

Action cult movie that inspired Tarantino's Kill Bill. Shot on Öland, the barren island off the east coast of Sweden.

15. A Guy and a Gal (Lasse Hallström, 1975)

The warmest comedy from the time before Hallström sold out to Hollywood. His more famous My Life as a Dog (1985) will be easier to find with subtitles.

16. Man on the Roof (Bo Widerberg, 1976)

The adaptation of a Sjöwall/Wahlöö novel that set the tone for the realistic crime genre that later became a trademark of Sweden.

17. The Brothers Lionheart (Olle Hellbom, 1977)

Arguably the best of all Astrid Lindgren adaptations, as well as all Swedish children's films. Takes place in the afterlife. Rumour has it that Tomas Alfredson is working on a new version.

18. The Adventures of Picasso (Tage Danielsson, 1978)

Genius fake biopic about the famous artist, played by Sweden's finest comedian, Gösta Ekman. No subtitles required – the dialogue is all in pretend Spanish and French!

19. A Decent Life (Stefan Jarl, 1979)

Heart-breaking documentary about a circle of heroin addicts in central Stockholm. The second part of a trilogy spanning over 25 years. All three are worth watching, but this is the masterpiece.

20. The Charter Trip (Lasse Åberg, 1980)

Every Swede's secret favourite comedy, about the utter stupidness of their travelling habits.

21. Fanny & Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)

Upper-class family epic set in the early 20th century. Perhaps the only Bergman movie that everybody likes – without pretending.

22. The Simple-Minded Murderer (Hans Alfredson, 1982)

Stellan Skarsgård, long before Lars von Trier fame, playing a half-wit under the orders of a cruel master.

23. All Things Fair (Bo Widerberg, 1995)

Teacher seduces pupil in 1940s Malmö. Widerberg's last movie.

24. The Hunters (Kjell Sundvall, 1996)

The thriller that will make you think twice before visiting the northernmost parts of Sweden.

25. Summertime (David Flamholc, 1996) 

AKA Beautiful Weather. The definitive 90s lo-fi indie flick, shot with shaky hand-held camera and fueled by condom-fumbling teenage love.

26. Lilya 4-ever (Lukas Moodysson, 2002)

After his first two successful feature films Show Me Love and Together, Moodysson touched on the hardest of subjects: human trafficking. Extremely difficult to watch, but worth the effort. Further watching: A Hole in My Heart (2004).

27. Four Shades of Brown (Tomas Alfredson, 2004)

The strangest comedy you'll ever see, directed by Alfredson (son of Hans) before he conquered the world with Let the Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.


Tomas Alfredson (left) and three of the stars of Four Shades of Brown celebrating after the film won four Guldbagge awards in 2005. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

28. Falkenberg Farewell (Jesper Ganslandt, 2006)

A group of young men returning to their west coast home quarters for one last summer of reflecting and magic mushroom picking. Further watching: The Ape (2009).

29. Involuntary (Ruben Östlund, 2008)

Swedish awkwardness as portrayed by the Gothenburg genius who later brought us Force Majeure. Further watching: Play (2011).

30. The Reunion (Anna Odell, 2013)

Uncompromising pseudo-documentary about a real-life class reunion that the artist/director claims she was never invited to.

This article was written by Swedish writer and translator Christian Ekvall. For more information on his work, visit his website here

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