Within the last ten years, the Nordic peoples seem to have developed a cinematic obsession with children. Or perhaps it was there for years and I just haven't noticed it until now. At any rate, within the last three years I have seen 2 Swedish films, 3 Danish films, and an Icelandic film specifically about the problems and joys of children, and I know of at least one more Danish film and one Norwegian film which I haven't seen which deal with the same subject. Now, this accounts for the majority of the new Scandinavian films I've seen over that time period, so it seems a little odd. Not that I'm complaining, for, except for the Icelandic film, they've all been marvelous and full of wonderful insights, but it is a bit odd.
Unlike Hollywood films, these films deal with real children in real life, not with children having fantastic adventures. The filmmakers deal with the true fantasies of childhood, where any event can be filled with wonder and magic is every bit as real as getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. Ake and His World a new Swedish film, is particularly adept at dealing with the fantasy life of a child. Set in a small Swedish city in the early twentieth century, Ake and His World presents us with the characters and events that face a normal eight year old boy. Ake is an unremarkable child, but very winning. He comes from a loving family, his parents are reasonably well off, and disaster doesn't lurk in the wings. But Ake does see some of the injustices and horrors of the world in his playmates and neighbors, and he does not live in an idyllic paradise.
Ake and His World harks back to a time when the Swedes did not shut up their mentally disturbed people in asylums. Rather, the mad and the eccentric were thought of as originals, and given a kind of respect. Ake encounters these people, and cruel religious fanatics, and thoughtless drunkards lost in sorrow, and loud, frightening peasants, and he views them all with a wide-eyed acceptance characteristic of a child. While he accepts them for what they are, Ake is not uncritical. Like all children, he makes mistakes, and adults can lead him or fool him into error, but he is fundamentally goodhearted. He sees what is right and tries to do it, even when it's frightening or difficult.
Allen Edwall, a fine Swedish actor best known for his role as the sad-eyed father in Fanny and Alexander adapted the script from a popular Swedish novel. Edwall also directed. His calm pacing and placid camera are perfectly suited to Ake's small adventures. Edwall excels at giving us a sense of life going on about the boy. The events shown seem to be typical rather than overwhelmingly important. Ake's mischievous and irresponsible prank on a smaller boy, his encounters with a religious fanatic, his helplessness in the face of an elder cousin's madness, his friend's poverty, are events that will have an effect on Ake's life, but will not determine his life, just as single incidents rarely warp our lives. Edwall is a director perfectly suited to this material, having an immense interest in seeing the world through the eyes of a child.
Martin Lindstrom is absolutely superb as Ake. Lindstrom is a very handsome child, looking just as all parents imagine their children look. He is also possessed of great sincerity, an attribute too often missing from show business children of Hollywood. His reactions to the world are immediately plausible and utterly true, and intelligence and compassion are evident in his eyes. So, too, is the mischief and unthinking cruelty of children. Edwall cast Lindstrom very well, and Lindstrom gives one of the finest children's performances I have seen. The rest of the cast is also excellent.
Ake and His World is beautifully filmed and evocative of an earlier, perhaps kindlier world. Its only flaw is inherent in the material, which is not especially ambitious. Ake and His World has limited, but noble, aspirations, and works very well within its bounds. Allen Edwall has a quiet competence as a director, rather than brilliance. His direction suggest fundamental limitations on his talents, but that he can produce extremely pleasing films within his range. His next film is to be another story of childhood, concerning four abused boys who run away to become pirates on a lake. Somehow, I look forward to it a little more than Steven Spielberg's next boy-meets-fantastic- creature movie.
If there's any justice in film distribution (stop that laughing for a moment!), Ake and His World should receive wide distribution. As yet, I have heard of no plans to show it in the US. Keep your eyes open.
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