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All Things Fair

(Bo Widerberg, Sweden/Denmark, 1995)


 


A sloppy, tedious and often insulting tale of forbidden love, Bo Widerberg’s All Things Fair treads a particular European arthouse groove approximately thirty years too late.

Widerberg is chiefly remembered for Elvira Madigan (1967), which offered an appealing mix of stylistic freshness, young love and popular-classical music. This mix no longer gels in All Things Fair.

The ungainly hand-held camerawork tips and dives in pursuit of the sullen, fifteen year-old Stig (Johan Widerberg). Attracted to his candid, 37 year-old teacher Viola (Marika Lagercrantz), Stig is delighted to find that she is aroused by his clumsy, adolescent advances.

Throughout the over-long, and quite unerotic, section of the story detailing the daily trysts of Stig and Viola, several other plot-threads lazily unfold. Stig’s brother Sigge (Bjorn Kjellman) leaves to work on a submarine. Viola’s pathetic, drunken husband Kjell (Tomas von Bromssen) chats to Stig about his dreams to be an inventor and spins his favourite vinyl discs – cueing the soundtrack’s lush complement of classical music. We also see the underwhelming rituals of Stig’s life at school.

All Things Fair will be compared to such coming-of-age films as My Life as a Dog (1985) or The Summer of ’42 (1971), but it lacks their sweetness and all-round compassion. Just when you imagine that Widerberg is about to lead us to an understanding of all the characters and their reasons for living as they do, he hardens the story into an easy, nasty, judgmental tract. The scenes of Stig turning on Viola and her supposed whorishness are grotesquely offensive.

There is a disturbing touch of Betty Blue (1986) in this film. Once again, this is a solely male rite-of-passage tale, in which Stig’s acquisition of knowledge and experience occurs at the expense of the woman who charitably helps him get there. When Stig’s jilted and outraged young girlfriend Lisbet (Karin Huldt) flees in a huff, I found myself applauding her good sense – but I also wished she would return to the movie and even up the gender score a little.

© Adrian Martin May 1997


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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