Hun Dansede en Sommernat
Here is another special entry from the Danish edition of the book. Curiously it is not even a Danish movie, but a Swedish one. Either the editors figured that there were not enough good Danish movies to pick from or, more likely, that from a Danish perspective Scandinavian movies were under-represented on the List. So, apparently they figured this one is a film you should not miss. I have some trouble understanding why.
“Hon Dansade en Sommar” (English title: One Summer of Happiness) is a heavy, heavy Swedish story of forbidden love in the Swedish Bible belt. It is one of those movies where an hour and forty-five minutes feels like an eternity and where the weight of the movie leaves you crushed and tired. Needless to say I was unimpressed with this one.
Its claim to fame is nudity in a bath scene, something that caused the movie to be banned in a number of countries and delayed its release in others and as a bonus started the (somewhat undeserved) Swedish reputation of being a sexually liberal country. In an otherwise dull film I was starting to wonder if this really could prove so interesting that it would save the film, but when the famous scene finally arrived I had to laugh. It is just about as innocent as it is possible to get: Two nude bodies in stark silhouette playing in the water and then a glimpse of Ulla Jacobsson’s breast as they lay on the ground. People must have been such prudes back in 1951 to have thought this daring or offensive. Oh dear oh dear.
With that out of the way let us focus on the story. Göran Stendal (Folke Sundquist) is a young man who has just graduated from high school and is spending the summer on the countryside until he has to start on university. He is a city boy and staying at his uncle’s farm in the middle of nowhere is not his idea of a good time. That is, until he meets Kerstin (Ulla Jacobsson). She is 17 years old and admittedly a very pretty girl. Suddenly Göran is interested in everything that will bring him close to Kerstin. Göran is a bit of a ladies friend and being from the city makes him doubly interesting for the farm girls, but Kerstin is different and therein lies the problem.
This outback location is also the Swedish Bible belt and the local minister (John Elfström) holds the congregation in an iron grip based on a particularly strict, conservative and frankly viscous interpretation of the scriptures. Kerstin’s family is very religious and close to this ayatollah and so Kerstin is afraid for good reason to involve herself in anything that might be considered frivolous behavior, such as dancing, theater or, worst of all, hanging out with boys.
Göran’s uncle, Anders Persson (Edvin Adoplhson) is a lot more open-minded and runs his own low key rebellion against religious dogmatism and Göran himself could not care less. He just want Kerstin and does not really care that he is getting her in trouble.
Of course this will eventually come to a head. First Kerstin is sent away and Göran is sent back to town to start university and then, when that cannot keep them apart, Göran and Kerstin drive away together on his motorbike only to be torpedoed by the minister’s car (the minister is for all his raging on the corruption of modernity quite a reckless driver) causing injury and death.
Kerstin was a flower that bloomed and danced for a single summer before her life was snuffed out.
At the funeral the minister has gall to call her death a lesson and punishment for frivolity, although he himself caused the accident, while Anders Persson, Göran’s uncle gives a speech about how nobody can judge another person and that love is the greatest gift.
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This all sound awfully familiar. I cannot work out if this movie just follows the template or if it is the original movie, but I would probably put my money on the first option. Youth rebellion in a conservative environment. The bittersweet blossoming of a one-year flower. Trouble is this is not even close to the best rendition of the theme. Even among the special Danish entries to the list I think this is the third movie to use these themes and not the best one.
I have no problem with the acting itself. It feels quite natural and realistic and there is a very rural feel to all these characters. They are also not without charm, many of them are even quite likable. Unfortunately I never come to terms with Göran, he is just too much of a spoiled and selfish ass, a little too smart. In more modern movies you know that the prettier the actors and actresses are where it is not really necessary the cheaper the production is and that also counts for older movies. While all the other characters are well casted Göran is not and that detracts from the movie experience.
It is also unfortunate that the quality of my copy is not particularly good. Grainy and often unfocused and with mediocre sound quality it look older that it really is.
“Hon Dansade end Sommar” won a number of prices and was something of an international hit at the box office, but it has not aged well and I cannot say that it stands out among the movies on the List, except maybe in boredom. It can be seen as a post-war youth rebellion movie or a critique of dogmatic religion, but the message I take from this movie is this: Beware of speeding priests!