Saturday, June 16, 2018

Sånt händer inte här / This Can't Happen Here (2017 restoration SFI)

High Tension [English title on print]
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Country: Sweden
Year: 1950
Duration: 1.24
Languages: sv
    DCP with English subtitles. Restored by Svenska Filminstitutet (2017).
    Viewed at Cinema Lapinsuu, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, 16 June 2018.

MSFF: "Sånt händer inte här (This Can’t Happen Here) is one of Ingmar Bergman’s rarest movies; a mystery that not even many cinephiles have had a chance to see. The director aimed to hide the movie from the world, unintentionally making it a kind of a Holy Grail for those who want to know the entire production of the Swedish maestro. A long-awaited chance to see the movie is on offer in Sodankylä’s summer."

"For the director the movie was a unique experiment, that differs both by it’s genre and story from the rest of his production. It is a spy film discussing the politics of the Cold War, full of inspiration from American entertainment movies of the time. Appropriately, the lead actors Signe Hasso and Alf Kjellin are better known for their Hollywood careers than their Swedish production. Although the states depicted in the film are presented as fictional, the movie displays temporality unusual for Bergman’s production by depicting a refugee crisis faced by Europe, desperate people escaping the totalitarian East to the hopeful West. The main characters are people troubled by their problems who, because of a conflict of ideologies and international spying, end up in dangerous situations. For a historian the movie unfolds not only as an interesting piece of Bergman’s production, but also as Sweden’s clear attempt to connect itself to the political West." (TET)

AA: The first screening in Finland of Sånt händer inte här, the most rarely seen film directed by Ingmar Bergman.

It is interesting to speculate why Ingmar Bergman himself inflicted a ban on the film, lifted only this year by Daniel Bergman for special events.

My first hypothesis would be that Bergman was acutely aware of the terrible situation in the Baltic countries, and it became personal when he met and married Käbi Laretei, the daughter of a distinguished Estonian diplomat and the mother of Daniel. Ingmar may then have felt embarrassed by his entertainment approach to the Baltic tragedy.

A second hypothesis might be that this was Bergman's single attempt to make an action movie and a spy thriller. It is curious to see how Bergman stages car chases and fistfights. All professionally made but the film lacks the sense of urgency and conviction of his major work.

A third hypothesis could be the Hitchcock comparison. I am re-reading presently the book Conversation avec Bergman by Olivier Assayas and Stig Björkman, and there Bergman confesses his admiration of Hitchcock and makes interesting remarks on the Hitchcock / Truffaut book. Maybe Bergman recognized that in Sånt händer inte här he was in Hitchcock territory and that it was not his territory.

That said, Sånt händer inte här has much to offer.

The film has a serious fundament. The sense of terror and fear in the Baltic countries occupied by the Stalinist machine is deeply felt. The Baltic double agents infiltrating into Sweden are themselves victims, and the thing they fear the worst is being sent back home. In their agonized comments we get a résumé of the tormented recent history of the Baltic countries, their being reduced to battlegrounds and victims of occupations of various dictatorships. Atkä Natas (Ulf Palme) has even participated in the Holocaust as a camp commander, and he is guilty of the execution of thousands.

The film takes seriously the reality it deals with, but it does not take itself seriously. The opening disclaimer about any connections with reality being fictitious is a joke. There is a joking approach to names of persons and countries (Liquidazia). The Baltic refugees' meeting is held in a backroom of a cinema where a Walt Disney cartoon is playing. During the fistfight of Atkä and Inspector Björn Almkvist (Alf Kjellin) the radio is turned on, and the summer hymn "Den blomstertid nu kommer" starts to play.

Finland was a busy place of espionage during the Cold War, and it is surprising that no film has yet dealt with it. But then most of the key topics of Finnish history have never been discussed in films.

Of contemporary Stockholm Bergman gives an exciting account with documentary value. He had displayed documentary passion for Stockholm also in films like Fängelse / Prison, but here he goes further. The sense of the incongruous is well understood. Vera Irmelin (Signe Hasso) is kidnapped by the Soviet spies, and when their tyre breaks and Vera tries to signal that she is in danger, the crowd of onlookers remains clueless.

There is even a sense of the absurd in a sequence around the Monument to Charles XII* pointing towards Russia. (Schoolchildren are given a history lesson around the monument). Charles XII's finger points towards a Soviet ship from where our policemen heroes thanks to a tracker dog rescue Vera hidden classically in the bottom of a lifeboat. Like Hitchcock in Saboteur, Bergman takes a tormented spy to a public landmark and a high place, here it is the Katarinahissen. From there the spy jumps to his death in order to avoid being sent back home.

A Bergmanian accent in this spy story is of course the theme of the marriage inferno. Early on Bergman was elaborating on this theme familiar from Ibsen and Strindberg plays such as Dödsdansen / The Dance of Death. A dance of death is literally going on in the hate marriage between the Signe Hasso and Ulf Palme characters.

A very well made restoration. Having being used to seeing first generation prints of Bergman's Swedish films I observe that this is a few generations removed from the original.

* Charles XII wanted to conquer Russia, and he progressed as far as the Ottoman Empire with which he wanted to ally against Russia. Peter the Great reacted by building a new capital, St. Petersburg, and a mighty sea fortress, Kronstadt. Finland was devastated by a cruel occupation. The biggest turning-point in the history of Sweden and Finland.


En främling anländer med flyg till Stockholm från diktaturstaten Liquidatzia. Från sitt hotellrum söker han telefonkontakt med militärattachén vid amerikanska ambassaden men når honom inte.

I Sverige vistas flyktingar från områden som Liquidatzia ockuperat. En grupp har samlats för att fira ett bröllop. Bland deltagarna finns den unga rättskemisten Vera. Medan festen pågår kommer den svenska poliskommissarien Björn Almkvist och meddelar Vera att en av flyktingarna, en kvinna, begått självmord till följd av de hotelser Liquidatzias agenter i Sverige utsatt henne för. Vera, som en gång varit tillsammans med Almqvist, anförtror honom sin egen oro.

När Vera återvänder till sitt hotellrum samma kväll sitter främlingen där. Han är Atkä Natas, moraliskt upplöst av sina krigserfarenheter och städse beredd att gå de makthavandes ärenden för att överleva. Han har bl a tjänstgjort som lägerchef och låtit avrätta tusentals människor.

Vera har gift sig med Natas för att skydda sina föräldrar men Atkä berättar att han angivit dem; de har därefter deporterats. Atkä har tagit med sig hemliga uppgifter om diktaturstatens agenter och om de politiska förhållandena i landet för att om nödvändigt kunna hoppa av västerut. Dokumenten förvarar han i en portfölj.

Ingenting binder nu Vera vid Natas. På natten sticker hon en injektionsspruta med bedövningsmedel i nacken på honom, tar de hemliga handlingarna och sänder dem till polisen. En studentfirande provinsialläkare på hotellet konstaterar att mannen är död, möjligen mördad.

Liquidatzias agenter tar sig in på hotellrummet och för bort "liket". Natas är i själva verket bara bedövad. Då han kvicknar till tvingas han under tortyr bekänna att han förlorat de hemliga handlingarna och vad de innehåller. Han beordras återskaffa portföljen och hjälpa till att oskadliggöra Vera.

Almkvists känslor för Vera har på nytt väckts. I stället för att arrestera henne för mord tar han henne med sig till sitt hem i en förort. Där uppenbarar sig plötsligt Natas och lyckas med list ta ifrån polisen både tjänstepistolen och portföljen. Agenterna, som skuggat Natas, tränger sig in, misshandlar Almkvist och för bort Vera i sin bil. Omtöcknad försöker Almkvist förflytta sig till stan. Uppbragta villaägare ser hans vingliga bilfärd som ett fall av rattfylleri.

I ett obevakat ögonblick lyckas Natas fly ur agenternas bil med portföljen men de är honom snart i hälarna. Instängd på Katarinahissens gångbro föredrar han att kasta sig ned hellre än att låta sig gripas.

Almkvist har erinrat sig namnet på en båt agenterna talat om: MROFNIMOK GADYN. Ett stort polispådrag dras samman i hamnen och båten genomsöks under Almkvists ledning. Tack vare en liten hund spåras Vera som ligger bakbunden och överplåstrad i botten på en livbåt. Under kaptenens protester för Björn Vera tillbaka till Sverige, åberopande att hon misstänks för mordförsök.

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