Stockholm My Love

 

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Some advance for Mark Cousins as he follows his individual path as a filmmaker.

 

Stockholm My Love

Neneh

 

Mark Cousins is such an engaging advocate for the art of film that it pained me to have so many reservations about his 2015 documentary feature I Am Belfast which found him embarking on a very personal kind of cinema. His latest work, Stockholm My Love, has to be seen as a companion piece to it despite its differences.  Once again he is putting the focus on a city finely photographed (the great Christopher Doyle returns to share the credit with Cousins himself) and, as before, there is a central female presence on the screen. The earlier work offered Helena Bereen as a woman who symbolised Belfast, but that tiresome whimsy happily yields here to a fictional character, Alva Achebe. She is an architect whose parents (an African father and his Swedish wife) brought her up in Stockholm. Now she is there alone reflecting on an incident, a year old, that has overshadowed her life ever since. Its impact on her and her recovery from it give the film its storyline and one in which Stockholm itself plays a crucial part. Indeed, Cousins is giving us a film that is a city symphony as he did in his Belfast movie.

 

In I Am Belfast the approach was too self-consciously arty for my taste, but here a consistently poetic tone is quickly found and being present equally in the words and in the images unites them tellingly. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is carefully considered (the pop songs doubtless encouraged by the casting of the singer Neneh Cherry in her acting debut may be a matter of taste, but Cousins also turns to Sweden’s greatest symphonist Franz Berwald to good effect). Our discovery of Alva’s situation comes through the words that she addresses to two off-screen characters in turn: her dead father and a man whose fate troubles her conscience.

 

Much of this works very well, even if one cannot quite throw off the feeling that Alva’s long-term reaction to what turns out to have been an accident for which she was not really to blame is, even if understandable, rather excessive. Cherry, whose own parentage and birthplace chimes with that of Alva, is an effective presence on screen but not a fully-fledged actress, and perhaps it needed one to make us feel fully for Alva despite her disproportionate sense of guilt. Nevertheless, I was ready to acclaim Stockholm My Love as a major step forward for Cousins until the film reached its final segment. Here the sections featuring Alva’s two sets of utterances give way to a final phase in which she increasingly addresses Stockholm itself but does so through words which instead of being spoken are written up on the screen. Until then any worrying artiness was limited to the sudden inclusion of a male voice quoting from Crime and Punishment. However, this last section not only increases the stylisation but suggests an unconvincing cure for Alva as she comes to regard the city as her sanctuary, her refuge and her lifeboat (I quote). Sadly, I was not persuaded, but others may be and at its best Stockholm My Love provides ample evidence of Cousins’s development as an auteur flying under his own unique colours.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Neneh Cherry.

 

Dir Mark Cousins, Pro Anita Oxburgh, Mary Bell and Adam Dawtrey, Screenplay Mark Cousins and Anita Oxburgh, Ph Christopher Doyle and Mark Cousins, Ed Timo Langer, Music Benjamin Page, Costumes Maria Montti.

 
Creative Scotland/BBC Films/Film Capital Stockholm/Migma/Bofa-BFI Distribution.
88 mins. Sweden/UK. 2016. Rel: 16 June 2017. Cert. PG.