The Danish edition of ”1001 movies…” has replaced a number of titles on the international list with local entries. It has been a while since I had one of those come up, but now it is time for a local… Swedish movie to show up (It replaces “Mediteranee”). I am not sure why the Danish editors thought that the List lacked some Swedish titles, but I suppose, as this movie takes place in Malmø, just on the other side of Øresund from Copenhagen, it counts as sort of local.
In any case, “Kvarteret Korpen” is a movie by Bo Widerberg about a family in a poor neighborhood in Malmø. The father, (Keve Hjelm) used to be, and still considers himself to be, a businessman, but he has for many years been drinking his career into ruin. Even small jobs like handing out pamphlets he has difficulty doing and the small money he makes are used on more drink. Of course he refuse to blame himself for his misery. The mother (Emy Storm) is the one keeping the family together with her self sacrifice. In her clinging on she is almost as apathetic as the father and her objective is mainly to survive. The story is told through the eyes on Anders (Thommy Berggren), the son. He watches his father drink himself senseless and his mother waste away and is powerless to do anything about it. He hangs out with his friend, Sixten, and sort of girlfriend, Elsie, but there is not much content to what anybody does. At home he writes about it all. His family, his friends, the neighborhood. This is his way of dealing with his frustrations.
When done, he submits his manuscript and is even called to Stockholm for an interview with a publisher, but nothing comes out of it. It is just not good enough. This throws Anders himself into a stupor. His father calls it “the diving bell”, that allows him to sink into a world, away and isolated from the harsh demands of reality and he invites Anders to join him. For Anders it is a choice between letting himself be dragged into the life in misery or break free.
“Kvarteret Korpen” was, it appears, selected in a vote to be the best Swedish movie ever. That is a bit sad if that is really the case. It is an okay movie and the acting is good. You can also feel the pressure weighing Anders down and the desperate need to shake it, but it is also terribly sad and depressive. Sure, this is not the abject misery of migrant workers in Brazil, but the feeling of being stuck, of throwing away your life is no less palpable. For better or worse this is social realism.
It is a curious detail that the story takes place in 1936, around the time of the Olympic games in Berlin. This may seem odd as I am sure exactly the same problems would be relevant in 1963, but I can make a few guesses. One would be that this might be a story remembered by Anders as a later writer, an autobiography if you will. Another could be that in 1936 the world was on the brink of something big, way bigger than the misery of the Korpen neighborhood. It was time to open the eyes and that is what Anders does, if only to escape his immediate world. Or sometimes you just have to distance yourself to see things more clearly.
I am not sure I expected that much from this movie and as such it did not fail me. There is more to Swedish movies than Bergman, but I could also see Bergman making this movie. It would not be so terribly different. The existentialism is certainly right down his lane.