Sunday, 1 June 2014

A review: "My Sister my Love" [1966 Sweden]


Vilgot Sjöman was no stranger to controversy even before his ground-breaking films "I am Curious [Blue, and Yellow]". Made a year earlier, "Syskonbädd 1782" [Eng. Title: My Sister My Love] - a costume melodrama set in the seventeenth century and dealing with sibling-incest within an aristocratic family, was only slightly overshadowed by one of his mentor's classics released around the same time (Bergman's magnificent Persona). The film has nevertheless stood the test of time - a true cinematic gem in its own right notwithstanding its controversial subject matter.

Per Oscarsson and Bibi Andersson in Syskonbädd 1782 Jarle Kulle and Bibi Andersson in Syskonbädd 1782
Tina Hedström and Per Oscarsson in Syskonbädd 1782 Bibi Andersson and Per Oscarsson in Syskonbädd 1782

The film begins with Jacob (Per Oscarsson) returning home after four years in Europe, to his only living relative, little sister Charlotte (Bibi Andersson) - he'd just been made her guardian following their father's recent passing. Their reunion will highlight the extraordinary closeness between the two, and establish the fact that they'd missed each other's company these years.

Charlotte reveals to Jacob that owing to his absence, she had to learn to live without him, and had started courting a wealthy baron named Carl Ulrik Alsmeden (Jarl Kulle). Even though she isn't in love with the baron, she asks Jacob for his approval of her wedding. He reluctantly agrees.

But when Jacob starts flirting with young Ebba (Tina Hedström) - a Count's niece, Charlotte will furiously object. The siblings' secretive rendezvous and their pleas - whether it is Jacob asking Charlotte to call off the wedding, or Charlotte proposing that they elope and start life elsewhere as an anonymous couple, will put to rest any doubts concerning their love for each other extending beyond a normal brother-sister relationship.

It all comes to a head when Charlotte becomes pregnant through Jacob, and a desperately in love Carl - unconcerned about who the father of the child could be, offers to become its father after they get married. But Charlotte and Jacob's dark past will return to haunt them, with unforeseen circumstances...

Forbidden love, guilt, and punishment are the overriding themes pursued in this melodrama, using the subtext of incest - not just between the protagonists, but also some supporting characters. It's a bothersome topic, because incest in real-life is almost always exploitative and very rarely consensual. A film with a topic like this could pretty easily descend into bawdy farce, but to Sjöman's credit, he tightly controls proceedings by focusing on the psychological and moral implications rather than the prurient aspect. The final scene of the film is utterly unforgettable - a scenario I don't remember seeing in cinema elsewhere.

Besides, we're talking about the sixties here - before the so-called 'porn revolution' - Sjöman had a headache with the censors as it was - it's not nearly as subtle as a Bergman, and any further dilution of the drama would have prevented its release altogether. Having said that, at least they talked about these matters then - almost inconceivable during these 'PC', neo-conservative days. Bibi Andersson - a Bergman regular, coincidentally worked in his Persona too, and was BAFTA-nominated for both. This is a seriously underrated film that requires re-evaluating, and is therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles


The Nudity: Bibi Andersson, Per Oscarsson, Ulla Lyttkens, and O. Paivonen
There is brief nudity from Bibi Andersson during her character's sex scene with Carl. As for Per Oscarsson, this may even be the first instance of a male actor appearing frontally nude in a mainstream film. In the scene, two other actresses also appear in the nude - Ulla Lyttkens, and O. Paivonen, as tavern girls that Jacob had hired for the night. The scene might remind you of something from the Wild West!

Bibi Andersson, Per Oscarsson, Ulla Lyttkens, and O. Paivonen nude in Syskonbädd 1782 aka My Sister My Love


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