torsdag 23 oktober 2014

What to do with men

What a lovely couple.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks had a great marriage - at least that's what it looked like. There is a short news reel on when they visit Sweden in 1924, and they do look happy. He is fun, all tanned and bouncing about. She is graceful and lovely and knows exactly where the cameras are. When they visit Filmstaden, Sweden's Hollywood in Råsunda, just outside Stockholm, Mary throws an elegant kiss to the kids clinging to the gates. When they are escorted to their hotel, in central Stockholm, the crowd is closing in but Doug never looks the least worried. It's impressive.

Still, marriage in Sweden has the worst reputation. It's all Ingmar Bergman's fault of course. I grew up with the tv-series Scenes from a marriage, and have never understood its charm, being from a broken home myself. 

This week end I happened to watch three films, very different, but they kind of answered the same question: What to do with difficult men? The stories were all a kind of Jane Eyre in reverse, but the crazy men didn't get locked up in the attic. They did get silenced and contained, though, all three of them. 

In one of the oldest Swedish films, The Father, by Anna Hofmann-Uddgren, the husband becomes mad and expires in an uncannily convenient way. The film is from 1912, and it is the only surviving film by Sweden's first female director. It is a version of the play by August Strindberg, and is quite strange to watch, not only because it's a silent film. The action is both slow and fast, depending on how you look at it: 

The wife casually tells her husband that he can't be sure he is the father of her daughter, a lovely girl in a velvet dress. The husband gets agitated and goes for a drive in a buggy, driving along muddy dirt roads. He comes home exhausted and soon finds himself in a straight jacket, which the wife conveniently has acquired from the nice doctor who seems to live in the same house (are they lovers?). There is a short comical scene when the straight jacket is produced and no one in the house wants to touch it. In the end, it's the old wet nurse, the only person who seems to be loving and caring, who helps the father into the straight jacket. Then he dies.
The father succumbing to his wife's wishes.
Almost ten years later, the second Swedish female director makes her film, Live life smiling (Lev livet leende). It's a short silent film, made as a series about a middle class family and their everyday life in Stockholm. The director is Pauline Brunius, who was a famous stage actress and later became head of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. 

In this film, the husband, advokat Vinner (played by charming actor Olof Winnerstrand), starts his day being grumpy and difficult. When the son, played by Paulines's own son Palle, jokingly puts a hard brush under his fathers hands, Mr Vinner goes mad and starts screaming at his family. The wife and kids quickly leave the bedroom and lock the head of the family inside the bedroom. On the other side of the door, the wife quietly picks up Douglas Fairbanks memoirs, which in Swedish bears the title "Live life smiling". Soon they can let the husband and father out, when he has calmed down. The rest of the film is about similar situations when the father learns the lesson of Douglas Fairbanks: it's much nicer to be nice to people, and smile.

Unfortunately there are no pictures available from the film by Pauline Brunius, but here is a picture of the lovely couple - they were both actors and married in real life too -: Frida and Olof Winnerstrand. 
Now, let's jump ahead almost a hundred years. What will David Fincher's new film Gone Girl add to the hardships of being married? What is there to learn and ponder about in this thriller about a man who one day, out of the blue, loses his wife - and then gets her back? (Sorry for the spoiler!)

The interesting thing is that the script is written by the same woman who wrote the book. Her name is Gillian Flynn, and she seems to be a very vindicative person. Or in any case she is very interested in the idea of getting back at the husband in this marriage, the rather dull and stupid person played by Ben Affleck. He has recently lost his job in the city, and moved back to his home town with his lovely wife. There, he owns a bar, but he doesn't seem to do much work. His twin sister works there though. The wife gets bored in the big house. What does she do all day? He doesn't know, and that is the first thing that makes the cop suspicious when the ovely wife disappears. 

He constantly wears the wrong smile.
The first question I must ask myself after the film is over is why do they stay together? The film digs deep into their differences: she is so bright and he is such a dick. This is being stressed all the time, and it's a very long movie! I keep wondering: why do they stay together? Why? Life is full of other people, other solutions. And they don't even have kids. They have nothing. Why? This is a story full of wholes. It's not even a story. It's just relationship torture. Just like Ingmar Bergman's films. 

My own husband actually produces the key to understanding this kind of movie: It is the US version of a Bergmanian marriage. Complete with the threat of the death penalty in Missouri. Why couldn't she just let him go?

Rosamund Pike in a new version of the female vampire.