Male loners on the make
The Swedish film Under the Sun plays dumb with the facts.
The mixed pedigree of Under the Sun, a Swedish film from an English story with Irish music, is no big deal. Even with a Brit filmmaker (Colin Nutley) directing a cast of Swedes, this comic romance in a rural 1950s setting positively oozes sexy charm.
The basic seeds of the story are planted when Olof (Rolf Lassgard), an illiterate bachelor and farmer—still a virgin at age 40—places an ad seeking a live-in housekeeper. Actually, he’s looking for something more than just a housekeeper, but for a variety of reasons he won’t admit as much until a tangled set of complications arises around the woman who takes the job, a self-assured and very blonde city girl named Ellen (Helena Bergstrom).
Olof’s clumsy but effective romancing of Ellen provides the main narrative thread, but the most dramatic tensions of the tale arise from something more complex—the amorphous three-way relationship that heaves into view via the provocative and insinuating presence of Erik (Johan Widerberg), a cocksure 20-something who is Olof’s handyman and lone confidant.
Erik, with his ducktail haircut and sparkling new Ford convertible, is a self-designated ambassador of Elvis Presleyism in rural Sweden, and both the film and Erik seem uncertain as to whether he means to protect Olof against Ellen or steal her from him. Either way, he throws the film somewhat off balance—if the Olof-Ellen romance slides into place too easily, Erik’s third-wheel conflicts suggest dangers that the film and its characters never really address.
I haven’t read the H.E. Bates story on which the film is based, so I’m unable to say how much strain results in the move from England and the 1930s to Sweden and the 1950’s. Regardless, Nutley’s approach gives us a film that is both light-hearted and heavy-handed. The gilded erotic aura is nicely sustained and thereby insures the film’s abiding appeal; but in certain scenes, Nutley and company seem to play dumb about the pricklier aspects of the main characters.
The music of Paddy Maloney and the Chieftains serves the earthier aspects of the story quite nicely, but as a period piece Under the Sun is guilty of 20-20 hindsight and faux nostalgia when it hints that the whole world was already dancing to Sun Records’ rockabilly in the summer of 1956.