My second film at the HKIFF is the Swedish Svinalängorna (literally “the Swine Rows”, the housing project where part of the film is set) or in its English name Beyond, directed and co- screenplayed by one of Ingar Bergman’s fomer actresses now turned director Pernilla August and starring Noomi Rapace as the heroine Leena, Ola Rapace as her husband Kimmo, Alpha Blad as Marja her daugher and and Selma Cuba as her second daughter Flisan, Ville Virtanen as her father Johan and Outi Maenpaa as Aili her mother, Tehilla Blad as the child Leena, Junior Blad as her younger but since deceased brother Sakari.
The film starts with a close up of one side of Leena’s face. As the camera withdrew further from her face, we see there is another face beside her, it was that of a man, Kimmo. She is still asleep. The man wakes up. He moves his face towards hers. His face is above hers and starts kissing her. She half resists. A telephone rings. She doesn’t feel like taking it. It continues to ring. She has to get up. She does. We see her face with the telephone. The female voice asks, Leena? She switches it off. Off screen, we hear some chidlren’s voices, telling her they’re coming. She tells her husband to pretend they are still sleeping. Her husband asks her who the call was from. She says it was just a crank call. We see the head of first one child emerging from screen right then another. On the head of the first, a girl about 8 or 9 was a white crown with four battery-powered candles around it. The other, younger, another girl about 6 or 7 also has a white crown of tinsel but without candles. On the hand of the older child was a birthday cake. We learn later they’re Marja and Flisan. They are singing Santa Lucia. She looks happy and kisses them. It is the picture of domestic bliss. The bliss is shattered by another telephone call. She takes the call. It’s from a hospital in Ystad, a town some more several hundre KM away. The voice at the end of the line says that her mother called her previously but it was cut but that she asked the hospital to call again. She takes the call at the toilet. She hangs up without saying anything. She is reflecting. Her mind flashes back to her childhood. She was brushing her teeth. She saw her mother, in a swim suit. She was at the head of an indoor swimming pool, preparing to swim. The camera pans to the right. We see a small young beside the mother some 8 feet away. Her mother plunged in. So did she. We see bubbles from the splashing arms and feet and the sound of water as their limbs thrashed, splattered speeding away. Then the scene switches to another day. It was her first day in school. Her mother overslept and they brushed their teeth and had to rush.
Leena returns to the bedroom with a sullen face. Her husband asks her who called. She tells him. He tells her that if she doesn’t go her mother might get depressed. She says that people get depressed all the time. She doesn’t want to go. Her husband says they must. He kisses and holds her tight in his arms. The following day, she was surprised when she heard her husband telephoning to his office saying that he would have to take a few days off.
Next we see her face again in front of the steering wheel of her car, with her husband beside her, her two children behind. As she was driving. It was raining, water dripping on the windscreen and the windows. There were constant flash backs. She was inpsecting a new house with her parents. An agent was showing them around. Before she leaves, the middle aged female agent reminds her mother not to clog the toilet with newspapers and that they need to pay the utilities themselves. Her mother was happy with the house but was complaining to her husband why he let the agent talk to him that way, as if they were ignorant peasants.
They moved into the new house and were introduced to the new neighbors. Young Leena got talking to another girl at the next verandah and was invited to go into her house. She climbed over the fence and saw how nice everything was. They got talking and saw a lipstick on the girls table. She said she could have it. She took it and held it against her chest. In another flash back, she saw her father planting sunflower seeds and showing her in her bedroom how they germinated in a corrugated egg carton paper before taking them out into the garden of their new house and how he gave them lots of attention. She saw how well they grew. She recalls how the neighbors said they were nourished not with water, but with love. She was back in her bedroom, writing out the definition of new vocabularies she learned at school, words like love, peace, panic, depression, orgasm, liquor, puck, stubborn, hermit etc.
In aother episode, she remembers his father was returning home. She saw that once he entered the house, he held her mother and wanted to make love to her. He couldn’t wait. Her mother half resisted. She was complaining that he was drinking too much. She heard her father vowing to her mother to be sober. When he saw her pouring his liquor into the toilet, he belted her, whilst her mother merely crouched at the sitting room floor through the door of which she could see his father lashing her, crying but did not stop him.
Then we’re back to her driving, on the way to Ystad. The children are singing the alphabet song. She wants her husband to sing. He can’t remember except a tiny fragment and apologizes. It was raining heavily. The beads of water on the windscreen makes her remember the water beads in the shower of a beach her mother brought her to and those at the gymn when she first joined the school’s junior swimming team wearing her own swimsuit and how was told to dress like the other, how the male coach said that if she did not want to swim, she should not join and how on the day of the competition, she stayed inside the shower room and did not want to go out and how she was told that she could never win if she never came out and how when the time came, she swam, and swam and swam and eventually won the junior champion and how happy and proud her mother and the coach and everybody was and how her mother was also a swimming athlete in Finland having won some medals too. She could not concentrate as memories of her childhood flashed back and nearly has an accident. She stops the car and runs towards a nearby wood. Her husband rans after her in the rain, comforts her in the woods with kissess and hugs.
They arrived at the hospital. She introduced her husband to her mother and also her children rather coldly, doing the minimum. It was the first time her mother saw her children. She said they got lovely names. When they were alone, her mother begged her to bring her her dad and was told to take her wedding ring which she had placed at a sideborad in her house. She was asked to stay there for a while.
At her mother’s request, they moved into her house. They found the house in a total mess, with utility bills unpaid, dishes left unwashed at the kitchen sink. Whilst she was cleaning up, Marja was going through the things in her mother’s bedroom. She was looking at certain photographs including those of her younger brother Sakari and began asking who was who in the photos. She was angry and scolded her that she previously told her not to touch anything. But the photos triggers memories of how she had to help look after her younger brother and how as a child, she had to cycle to the supermarket, how she had to help make biscuits in the kitchen and even had to help her mother doing hourly paid work as a cleaning lady for richer people and how she helped her mother once to clean a wash basin and mirror and was given more money by her mother than she thought she deserved and how when she said it was too much, how her mother said she did an excellent job and how when she visited her rich neighbor’s house, she was taught how to wash glasses properly by girl neighbor’s mother’s live-in boyfriend, a building site supervisor when her own father was just an ordinary worker.
Her husband found her childhood Christmas wish list. And she recalls how her mother complains to her father about their emigrating from Finland to Sweden and be second class citizens because her husband has become a drunk and how during a Christmas, her husband insisted on putting on the Christmas light lubs on a small Christams tree and how her mother told him to do so later and join in the family celebration and how he insisted but fell because he was too drunk and how they then got into a quarrel because he turned a happy occasion into an unhappy incident following which remark, he hit her and how they struggled on the floor and eventually how his father slashed her mother with glass shard from a broken liquor bottle, with blood all over her fallen body and how she had to call the ambulance and how her brother had to be taken away because the authorities said so following her mother’s injury and she remember how she fought against the authorities taking away her brother. Her husband wondered why she never mentioned about her having a brother before until now.
Next we see Leena at the hospital, carrying a flask. We learn later it contains her father’s ashes. Her mother reminsinces over her father, saying how well he danced the tango when he was young and the wonderful time they spent together and how good it was to stay in the hospital because when she needed anything, she only had to press a bell and how her brother died because of an accident whereupon Leena flew into a rage and said brusquely what a terrible husband she had, how she got beaten up and how her brother died of drug overdose because of depression after going from one institution to another.Her mother then apologized to her and said how sorry she was and admitted that it was she who signed the papers giving up Sakari. because she could not cope. They cried. She remembers how to induce her young brother to eat some biscuits, she had to promise to give him a bubble bathe with plenty of bubbles. Aili asked for a cigarette because she was dying to have one. She gave it to her and put her out on the verandah because she knew that her mother was not going to live long. She went home. She got another call from the hospital. She was told ther mother had died. She put down the phone, cried, and said she ought to have been there. Her husband holds him in his arm and kisses her. The film ends.
The film is based on a best selling semi-autobiogrpahical story of the same name about the 1970’s written by Susanna Alakoski, dealing with alcoholism and domestic violence which won the August Award, Sweden’s most prestigious literary prize. It was a good film, but not exceptional but Noomi Rapace’s acting is excellent as the emotionally controlled Leena. So were the acting of her mother and the children. One can see the influence of Bergman’s close up everywhere. The constant use of dark blue in the car journey and the hospital gives the film a sombre mood which helps to convey the repressed sorrows of Leena’s past. The music, though sparingly used, is used to good effect, with guitar and one of Chopin’s Nocturnes on piano. The ploy of Leena’s Christmas wish list and her vocabulary list serves to tie skilfully toether the scattered fragments of Leena’s memory and give it a certain kind of aleatory unity. The constant cuts between the present and the past adds contrast and tension and explain why Leena was so cold, reserved and controlled in everything she does towards her mother which we see at the start of the film. Her desperate attempt to seal her past into a never to be opened chest of memories fail with that fatal telephone call on the morning of her birthday. The past always has a way of catching up with us when we least expects it! Overall, I would give it a B plus.