Confronting the past
The story of a girl growing up in a family in which the parents are abusive (mostly toward each other), alcoholic and neglectful is perhaps not new, but the way Svinalängorna tells it is quietly radical in assuming exclusively the point of view of the girl.
Blad and Rapace as young and adult Leena couldn’t be more alike if they had been cloned; it’s in the body language and in the way they look at the camera. From an early age, caught between loyalties, Leena has learned to reserve judgement and simply function, and what’s left in her as an adult is her hatred of her mother, hidden under a very thin veneer of silence and orderliness.
Yet Rapace manages to convey what it was that once made her husband fall in love with her and keeps him by her side now, no matter how much she withdraws into herself. Even more impressive is Blad; her young Leena is about as alone as a human being can stand to be, even when she relates to other people.
Svinalängorna paints the picture of a kind of poverty that we easily forget – Leena’s family has a roof over their head and enough food to eat, but they can’t afford to buy a new swimsuit for their daughter. Some of the Swedish-Finnish social subtext might be lost in translation, but the precise storytelling is universally understandable as Leena’s family, past and present, steers toward catastrophe.
Svinalängorna (Bessere Zeiten) | Directed by Pernilla August (Sweden et al. 2010) with Noomi Rapace, Tehilla Blad, Outi Mäenpää. Starts December 8