After the premiere of what came to be director Bo Widerberg’s last film, he was accused of having stolen the idea for it from colleagues who were also making a movie about a young man who falls in love with an older woman. In an interview, the director replied by pointing out that the first time All Things Fair had been announced as a project was eight years earlier, and he also added: ”The idea of a young man having a relationship with an older woman is not that fucking original”. Well, that’s true, but Widerberg’s last film still proved what a talent he was.
Malmö, 1943. 15-year-old Stig Santesson (Johan Widerberg) takes part in his male schoolmates’ endless obsession with sex with as much fervor as anyone else. To these teenage boys, sex is a mystery that needs to be solved. This is when their new teacher arrives from Stockholm. 37-year-old Viola (Marika Lagercrantz) is a very attractive woman who shows a special interest in Stig. A discreet flirt between teacher and student leads to their first kiss and a sexual attraction.
Viola invites Stig into her home and together they agree how to avoid the attention of her husband Kjell (Tomas von Brömssen), a salesman with a drinking problem. Eventually, Stig and Kjell meet and develop a special bond…
Back in the spotlight
Bo Widerberg hadn’t received international attention in many years; not since The Man on the Roof (1976), the best Swedish cop thriller ever made. After announcing All Things Fair as his next project in 1988, he ran into financing difficulties. In the end, when the film was finally made, the investment paid off – the film was a local hit, won the Swedish equivalent to Oscar’s Best Picture and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
At the premiere, Swedish critics found similarities with the film that became Widerberg’s local breakthrough, Raven’s End (1963) – the relationship between the boy and the father figure (essentially a sweet man, a dreamer, but also an irresponsible drunk) looked like it was lifted straight out of that movie. Never mind, it fits perfectly here as well, boosted not least by von Brömssen’s great performance as the salesman. There’s a memorably touching scene where he’s listening to a German opera while also hearing Göring give a speech; he begins to cry, unable to fathom how such beauty and such ugly hatred can come from the same language. The main focus of the film lies however on the relationship between Stig and Viola. The film begins with a very juicy, sexual quote from the famous 18th century botanist Carl von Linné and continues with an amusing portrait of teenage boys, capturing their wild horniness and immaturity. Stig is an easy victim for Viola; in the beginning their affair is intriguing because of its forbidden, lustful aspects, but later on the teacher’s true nature emerges. Stig has to grow up fast, in his dealings with her, but also in his relationship with her husband and when it comes to the fate of his brother and the tragic tale of a real-life 1943 submarine disaster.
The director stages the film well, making sure we feel the presence of World War II throughout. His son, 20 years old at the time, is completely convincing as a 15-year-old boy, very well matched by Lagercrantz in a sexual and disturbing turn as Viola.
In Elvira Madigan (1967), Widerberg used Mozart’s 21st piano concert to great popular effect. He was going after something similar here, with Händel’s mesmerizing ”Laschia ch’io pianga” serving as a bridge between Stig and Viola’s affair and Kjell’s love of classical music. Beauty in tragedy.
All Things Fair 1995-Sweden-Denmark-Britain. 130 min. Color. Produced by Per Holst. Written, directed and edited by Bo Widerberg. Cast: Johan Widerberg (Stig Santesson), Marika Lagercrantz (Viola), Tomas von Brömssen (Kjell), Karin Huldt, Björn Kjellman, Kenneth Milldoff… Nina Gunke.
Trivia: Original title: Lust och fägring stor.
Berlin: Special Jury Prize.