Friday, 18 February 2011

Hugo and Josefin (1967)

I have occasionally mentioned my friend Richard who has a private cinema (only 13 seats) in his garden and his bi-monthly projection of rarely shown films. (If there is demand for a particular movie, he will always try to schedule a second showing.) He takes great care in choosing the films, needing to strike a balance between those regular attendees who want to be cinematically educated and those, like myself, who consider themselves more than cine-literate. In the past he has tried to obtain 16 mm prints, but as these become more and more difficult to purchase or borrow, he now relies on high quality DVD projection for some features.

He has been raving about the above Swedish film for years and it is indeed one that I was not familiar with. Apparently the only print previously available here has now been returned to Sweden, but he managed to obtain a Scandinavian DVD to present this month. While on paper the movie didn't sound all that promising, being a simple story of the friendship between a lonely girl and a force-of-nature young boy, I didn't want to let the side down and cry off going to see it. Thank goodness I didn't -- it is a truly wondrous film. It is the first feature by writer-director Kjell Grede, married to actress Bibi Andersson at the time. Grede has had a patchy career turning out only eleven subsequent titles, some of which were made for television, with only "Good Evening Mr. Wallenberg" (1990) being well-known outside of his homeland. (It was nominated for, but did not win, a Golden Bear in Berlin in 1991.)

Based on a number of children's stories by Maria Gripe, Grede presents the viewer with a series of scenes, rather than a strictly narrative tale. which beautifully capture what it feels like to be a child of tender years. Marie Ohman (who never appeared in another feature) as Josefin was actually nine when the film was made and Fredrik Becklen (who has only a second screen credit two years later) as Hugo was rising ten, but both of them are playing six to seven year olds. She is the imaginative daughter of the local priest living on an isolated farm, bemoaning that she has no one with whom to play. He is the son of a railway man, who must fend for himself when his father is jailed. When they meet through her family's occasional gardener, she finds someone with whom she can explore the wonders of the landscape, both in its natural beauty and in its industrial aspects. They are both due to start schooling, but she is badly bullied by the other kids, and he plays truant more often than not. Only together can they find the true magic and joy of childish inquisitive exploration. On one of their outings she leads him to an abandoned bicycle in an old cave; his rapid tottering on the huge penny-farthing through the countryside creates an indelible image that will be impossible to forget. I smile now just picturing it!

Running parallel to this is the relationship between Josefin's uptight mother and the carefree seasonal gardener. It is clear that they too were childhood friends, but she has become bogged down in the responsibilities of marriage and respectability. He on the other hand is still a big child at heart, who enjoys splashing through puddles, and who uses his summer earnings to go off on adventures during the rest of the year. When it comes time for him to pack up his meagre bits of furniture to move on, the heartbroken kids follow him cross-country. When he realises that some chairs have fallen off his van, he stops, turns back and finds the youngsters sitting on the chairs in the middle of the road. So naturally he offloads a tatty sofa to join his young friends, providing an impromptu farewell picnic of hard-boiled eggs (which must be eaten in one mouthful). Grede has a light and affectionate touch in creating his very real insights into a child's world and I must now join Richard in his crusade to make people more aware of the enchanting film.
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