Monday, 10 November 2008

Swedish Wildcats (1972)

The fact that writer-director Joe Sarno’s 1972 film Swedish Wildcats (also known as Every Afternoon) is released on DVD by Seduction Cinema could lead you to expect that you’re about to see a moderately sleazy sexploitation opus. If so, you’d be quite wrong. What you actually get is an outrageously romantic and rather poignant love story, and an interesting and sensitive look at illusions and why we need them.

Susanna (Cia Löwgren) and Karin (Solveig Andersson) are sisters. They work in a Copenhagen brothel run by their slightly dotty and extremely colourful Aunt Margaretha (Diana Dors). Susanna spends her afternoons wandering about the city day dreaming about being a ballerina. In fact she’s just about convinced herself she really is a ballerina. One day in the park she meets a nice young man named Peter, and they fall in love. He’s a test pilot involved in an ultra-secret government project, but of course he’s really no more a test pilot than she is a ballerina.

They both cling desperately to their fantasy lives, but in both cases they’re about to have an unexpected and not entirely pleasant confrontation with reality. Peter’s nemesis is his boss, Gerhard, an obnoxious thug mixed up in drug smuggling who also happens to be a client of Aunt Margaretha’s brothel. And Aunt Margaretha’s attempts to make her establishment the most celebrated in Denmark lead her to involve the two sisters in ever more dangerous sexual game-playing.

In the interview included on the DVD Sarno claims that his Scandinavian crew on this film were among the best in the business. Looking at the results they achieved on a very low budget, he may well be right. It certainly doesn’t look like a typical low-budget movie. The one technical weakness is the soundtrack, but even that is so delightfully 1970s that you end up growing quite fond of it Well you do if you’re a connoisseur of 1970s cinema!

Two things make this film stand out from the crowd. The first is the surreal quality to the brothel scenes. Aunt Margaretha believes in giving her customers a real show. Dressed up to resemble a circus ringmaster she introduces live performances by her girls before the clients get down to the serious business of choosing a partner for the evening. The scene with the girls in wild animal make-up and costumes is wonderfully bizarre, ending with the customers pursuing them with gigantic butterfly nets. Several of Aunt Margaretha’s other shows involve sado-masochistic elements, something that was forced on the very reluctant Sarno by his producer. If anything they probably strengthen the movie, making the attempts at escape (both literal and in the world of the imagination) by Karin and Susanna more understandable.

The movie’s second great strength is Diana Dors. This very underrated actress gives an extraordinary performance. She’s very funny, at times menacing, more often manipulative, but she’s always delightful. The acting overall is quite decent.

This is the sort of movie that could only have been made in the 70s, which is why I love the movies of that period so much. Sarno obviously cares about his characters, and we end up caring as well. Even Aunt Margaretha is strangely likable. An odd little film, but worth a rental.

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