By the time Mai Zetterling decided to become a filmmaker, she had already been a stage and screen actor for nearly twenty years, beginning as a teenager in the early 1940s in her native Sweden. Sweet-faced, blonde, and a skilled, sensitive performer, she enchanted both audiences and critics. Having emigrated to Great Britain in 1947 to star in films there—she would never again live in Sweden—she resolved in the late fifties to teach herself the craft of directing by making a series of documentaries for the BBC, which would take advantage of her star persona by featuring her on-screen as well as in the voice-over narration. As she explained in an interview with a Swedish women’s magazine at the time, “I don’t want to talk about my ideals anymore; now I want to do something about them! As an actor, you rarely get the opportunity. A writer, an artist, or a composer can go into his chamber and create whatever he wants, and when he wants to. As an actress, I had to sit at home by my phone and wait for it to ring.”
For the most part, Zetterling’s BBC documentaries focused on people or places seen by Western culture as being on its margins: the Sámi people of northern Sweden (The Polite Invasion, 1960), the Roma people of southern France (Lords of Little Egypt, 1961), and Icelanders (The Do-It-Yourself Democracy, 1963). A notable exception was The Prosperity Race (1962), about Sweden and the Swedish people. The title is a pun: it refers to race both in the sense of a contest and of a group of people of common ancestry. The film portrays the country as a place in which authentic life, love, and community have been exchanged for material comforts, security, and safety, leaving the people there as islands, bereft of any meaningful human interaction. In the Swedish newspapers, Zetterling was accused of betraying her own country, and many Swedes living in Great Britain were also apparently shocked by the way the film seemed to play into the prejudices that proliferated about Sweden among outsiders at the time—having to do with its loneliness, coldness, alcoholism, crime, suicides, and promiscuity. In this, the response to The Prosperity Race anticipated later reactions to Zetterling’s work. The idea that modern, mainstream Western society was responsible for a widespread loss of meaning in people’s lives is a theme the filmmaker would return to in the incendiary Swedish art films of the sixties for which she is best known. The petrified traditions of the aristocracy in Loving Couples (1964), the perverse decadence of the rich in Night Games (1966), and the alienation and loss of communication in the welfare state of The Girls (1968) all reiterate and elaborate on that worldview.
Over the course of her three-decade directing career, Zetterling worked in a wide variety of modes, making feature-length films, shorts, documentaries, and television episodes. But throughout, she returned repeatedly to certain themes: not only loneliness, isolation, and the perils of consumerism, but also gender, sexuality, and childbearing; the toll of being an artist; and the experience of moving among states of reality as if the thresholds separating them were low. Her work is visually striking, and it often sparked controversy, both for its frank depictions of sexuality and reproduction and for its attacks on class conventions and male hegemony.
Zetterling’s life and work are defined in many ways by contradictions. She is considered Swedish but lived most of her life in Britain and France. Her stardom made her familiar to audiences around the world, but her expatriate status in Sweden and her Swedishness everywhere else gave her an outsider’s perspective, and, as a result, her films often have a sense of detachment, as of someone observing human behavior from a distance and finding it both problematic and a bit humorous. The Girls is now her most famous film but was severely rejected on its release, by both critics and audiences. She was a self-proclaimed socialist, but many of her films are critical of alienation in modern social democracies, while others romanticize individualism and cultures in which life is governed by deep traditions. (Besides the previously mentioned BBC documentaries, this strain in her work is also apparent in her celebration of the seal hunters in the 1979 documentary Of Seals and Men; of the rebellious vitality of the young detainees in the 1982 drama Scrubbers; and of the artists in search of creative authenticity in the 1972 documentary portrait Vincent the Dutchmen and 1986’s Amorosa, a biopic of Swedish novelist Agnes von Krusenstjerna.)
As a female filmmaker of the sixties, Zetterling has often been discussed principally as a pioneering woman director, or as a feminist director who brought a woman’s perspective to the screen. Her ambition during this time, however, was to be seen as a cinema artist alongside the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Luis Buñuel. She wanted to speak to humankind universally, by way of timeless creative ideas. In fact, she divided her attention more or less evenly between female characters (in Loving Couples, The Girls, 1976’s We Have Many Names, Scrubbers, Amorosa) and male ones (in Night Games; 1968’s Doctor Glas; Vincent the Dutchman; The Strongest, her entry in the 1973 Olympics omnibus Visions of Eight; Of Seals and Men).
In any case, Zetterling would find the kind of acceptance within the young, radical feminist film movement of the seventies that had been denied her by the gatekeepers of the modernist European art cinema of the sixties. Having preceded the women’s movement by approximately a decade, she—like Agnès Varda—was justly celebrated as a forerunner, and The Girls, derided by critics in 1968, opened the First International Festival of Women’s Films in New York in 1972. She was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights in general and the rights of women artists to express themselves in particular, and, notwithstanding the conservative, even reactionary streak they sometimes evince, her films often present feminist ideas, gender-bending performances, and nonheteronormative sexual practices. Perhaps—given the reactions to her earliest feature films by a sexist and patriarchal society—it is unsurprising that she ultimately became more willing to embrace the label of feminist filmmaker. Her objective to be taken seriously as an auteur had been considered overambitious and was ill-received—perhaps above all in her native Sweden.
In 1963, after making the short film The War Game, which won the Leone di San Marco at the Venice Film Festival, Zetterling funded a trip back to Sweden by starring in a commercial for the soap Lux (“Nine out of ten film stars use Lux”). There, she contracted with producer Rune Waldekranz at Sandrews, one of the two major Swedish film companies, to finance her first feature, Loving Couples, based on Swedish author Agnes von Krusenstjerna’s controversial suite of seven novels, Fröknarna von Pahlen (The Misses von Pahlen, 1930–35). At the time, this opportunity made her the only woman filmmaker working in Sweden.
Unlike Zetterling’s films that would directly follow it, her debut feature was, on the whole, favorably received. Loving Couples centers on the Swedish nobility around the time of World War I. The film was well publicized even before its December 21, 1964, premiere, as it was considered notable for its “feminine” framing—as a film based on a series of novels by a female author, directed by a woman, and with three women protagonists—as well as for being something of a high-budget, prestige production that showcased several of Sweden’s most renowned stars, Harriet Andersson, Gunnel Lindblom, Eva Dahlbeck, Anita Björk, and Gunnar Björnstrand among them. In addition, the press coverage highlighted the controversial aspects of the source material. The depictions of female sexuality, homosexuality, and incest in the book series had been scandalous in the thirties and given rise to heated public debate.
The rhetoric around Zetterling’s gender was, in both the prerelease publicity and the reviews, eye-catching. “Zetterling wants to break men’s hold over power,” and she had “completely turned the heads of the gentlemen at Sandrews,” one newspaper claimed. The Swedish film journal Chaplin reassured readers that, even in “the most feminine of films,” at least “two men are found on key posts. Sven Nykvist is the cinematographer and Rune Waldekranz the producer.” Reviewers often referred to Zetterling’s gender in a happily surprised or gentlemanly manner, while describing the film as an “impressive debut” or a “brave trial of strength.”
Despite its often patronizing tone, the praise itself was not unfounded. Loving Couples is an ingenious adaptation, employing an intricate flashback structure in order to condense the material of von Krusenstjerna’s seven novels into the length of a feature film. With its three protagonists—all of whom are about to give birth at a maternity hospital, and each representing a different facet of social standing and of womanhood—the film presents key moments from their respective childhoods and, later, the events leading to their pregnancies. Angela (Gio Petré) comes from the aristocracy. She was orphaned as a girl and taken in by her aunt, Petra von Pahlen (Björk), eventually falling in love with an older man who has a history with Petra. When Angela becomes pregnant, she and Petra decide to take care of the child together. Adèle (Lindblom) has descended on the social ladder; her family was also aristocratic, but she and her mother fell on hard times after her father’s death when she was a child, and the experience has wounded her deeply. “Men always let you down,” something her mother said to her as a child, has become her own constant refrain. She is married to the foreman of Petra von Pahlen’s estate and bitterly resents her position. Agda (Andersson) is working-class, a maid and model who navigates her sexuality with a kind of accepting naivete. When her lover, a son of the nobility, finds out she is with child, he marries her off to his gay artist friend, an unconventional arrangement that seems to suit all three parties.
This summary does little to convey how Zetterling works with framing, narrative structure, editing, and camera movement in order to create a sense of the ways in which sexuality and reproduction influence women’s lives. An important function of the flashback structure relates to this recurring theme of Zetterling’s, of “sexuality as woman’s ultimate goal—and her cul-de-sac,” in the words of film scholar Maaret Koskinen. In Loving Couples, the structure provides the narrative with a certain determinism: we know that the women will get pregnant because the film presents the effect before the cause. The question of how hovers above the stories of the past, highlighting the variety of paths that led the women to the maternity ward, but also the inevitability of those paths. A recurring circular camera movement, which Zetterling reportedly had to struggle to convince Nykvist to execute, echoes this determinism, and underscores the repetitive, cyclic nature of reproduction.
Furthermore, the cuts between past and present create an immediate connection between sex and its consequences; one such edit takes us from Agda, having sex with her lover (not her husband) on her wedding night, to the obstetrician, who leans over her in a way that echoes her lover’s position in the previous shot. “So, now it is over,” he says. “It didn’t hurt at all,” says Agda, a reply that also seems to provide commentary on something the obstetrician said earlier: “Thirty seconds of pleasure, thirty years of hell.” The obstetrician, played by Björnstrand, is a relative of Angela’s and makes several sardonic statements in the film. Both here and in The Girls, Björnstrand embodies a kind of hyperrational and world-weary masculinity, observing the women around him with an aloof and superior eye. The line above is delivered as a cynical joke, but for Zetterling, and for the women in Loving Couples, sexuality and pregnancy are no joke. The brevity of the sexual act in relation to a nine-month pregnancy and then the years of child-rearing; the pleasure of the sexual act compared with the pain of childbirth and the traps and responsibilities of motherhood; and the differences, as Zetterling sees them, between the masculine perception of sex and reproduction and the feminine experience of them—these variations on a theme will return again and again in the director’s films: in the stillbirth and the narcissistic, incestuous mother in Night Games; in the repugnance of the pregnancies experienced by the titular physician and the marital rapes in Doctor Glas; in the practical hassles of the mothers in The Girls; in the mental breakdown of the protagonist, whose child is taken from her by the authorities, in Scrubbers; and in the fear and rejection of the body’s metamorphosis in Amorosa.
Although generally praised, Loving Couples’ representation of sexuality and reproduction did not go unchallenged. Olof Lagercrantz—who was not only the editor in chief at Sweden’s largest daily newspaper and a highly influential figure in Swedish cultural life but also a relative of von Krusenstjerna’s and a scholar of her life and work—took particular issue with the concluding scene of the film. In it, Angela’s pained face during delivery is intercut with footage of a real-life childbirth, showing the moment of the baby slithering out into the world. Lagercrantz claimed that this scene allowed reality to come too “grotesquely close,” by becoming too concrete and tangible and thus breaking with what he saw as von Krusenstjerna’s more lyrical and symbolic treatment of reproduction. At this time in Sweden, fathers had only recently begun to be allowed inside delivery rooms, and the messy and abject realities of childbirth—with its pain, loss of control, and bodily fluids—had always belonged to a sphere separate from public discourse. Whether Lagercrantz reacted to the film out of a sense of propriety or in order to assert himself as an expert on von Krusenstjerna may be moot. Regardless, his response foreshadows some of the complaints and accusations that would be leveled at Zetterling later on in her career, many of which seem to have been prompted by a sense that she was “too much” and by a general unease about her choices of subject matter.
Nevertheless, Loving Couples fared quite well. In the early sixties, a new national policy had been implemented that led to the establishment of the Swedish Film Institute and a support system designed to stimulate the production of “quality” films. Loving Couples received a “quality award” from the institute, and was sent to the Cannes Film Festival, in a bid to promote Swedish cinema abroad. Following her debut, Zetterling would have the opportunity to make another feature at Sandrews.
Zetterling’s second feature, Night Games, may be her most challenging one. With its themes of incest and impotence and depictions of masturbation and homosexuality, it caused a huge scandal when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 1966. It was shown to the festival jury and the press in a closed screening, guarded by police. Even the poster for the film—showing one of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings of sexual intercourse—was censored. Journalists from around the world reacted to the movie with outrage, while several Swedes reporting on the uproar almost reflexively defended Zetterling as one of their own against the aggression of the foreign press (in the process displaying some prejudice against Italians and Catholicism). Even so, some of their colleagues who filed reviews with Swedish publications from the festival were not impressed—Night Games was “about as subtle as trying to hit a thumbtack with a sledgehammer,” one critic put it.
A young man, the tormented and somewhat obnoxious Jan (Keve Hjelm), returns to his childhood home to marry his fiancée (Lena Brundin), but it soon becomes clear that he needs to liberate himself from his past in order to become a free and whole person. His mother lives on a vast estate (the film was shot at Penningby Castle, in Uppland, Sweden), where she and her husband used to host a constant stream of decadent parties. Cutting back and forth between the present and Jan’s miserable childhood (in which the character is played by Jörgen Lindström, who also appeared in Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence and Persona in the sixties), the narrative functions in part as a Freudian case study of the Oedipal relationship between Jan and his mother, Irene (Ingrid Thulin), who can be described only as thoughtlessly evil. Taking place almost entirely within the castle, Night Games is also a movie about letting go of old traumas, and a horror tale about a haunted house where the past lurks around every corner. In the Venice Film Festival program, Zetterling explained that she saw the movie as a “story of modern Europe.” The castle itself, filled with cynical upper-class people who are beyond caring about anything except their next boisterous laugh, can be seen as a metaphor for the privilege and decadence of an immoral modern European society, in which the burden of the past weighs people down and traps them in meaningless lives.
After her successful debut, expectations of Zetterling were high, and critics seemed to anticipate something similar to Loving Couples—namely, the feminine perspective: a film about women and women’s experiences. However, Zetterling chose to place a man at the center of the narrative, basing the screenplay on a novel she was writing, which would be published after the film was released. As with Loving Couples, she cowrote the screenplay with her husband at the time, the British novelist David Hughes, with whom she would collaborate until the marriage ended in the seventies.
About a week after the tumultous premiere in Venice, Night Games was released in Sweden, to mixed reviews. When Swedish journalists no longer felt any need to defend the film as a representative of Swedish cinema abroad, they demonstrated even less enthusiasm for it, complaining about Zetterling being too eclectic and not original enough. Some tried to demonstrate how blasé they were about the film’s sexual elements—“some pseudoliberal manipulations in the taboo regions of film erotica,” as one reviewer wrote. Others, however, wondered about the effects of participating in the film on the child actor Lindström. One journalist even interviewed Lindström’s parents, who said they had the greatest confidence in Zetterling. At the San Francisco International Film Festival in October 1966, Shirley Temple Black, the American former child star, resigned from the board of the festival in protest against the film.
One particularly provocative scene takes place early in Night Games, when Irene gives birth to a dead child. The delivery takes place during one of her parties, with all the guests as well as young Jan serving as her audience. Another sequence, perhaps the most harrowing in the film, portrays child abuse with incestuous overtones. The mother’s cruelty, the film implies, stems from her narcissism and selfishness, and her bitter disappointment in a life with no purpose. The twelve-year-old Jan does receive some form of support from an elderly relative (Naima Wifstrand), who teaches him about the Bible and plays with him.
Like Loving Couples, Night Games has a flashback structure, but whereas the earlier film eases the audience into its flashbacks with cues such as fades, sound bridges, and close-ups of faces, the later one simply inserts them, often shifting suddenly into the past as Jan turns a corner or opens a door. The impression this technique creates is that Jan’s memories overwhelm him as soon as he starts moving about the castle, almost as though they are echoing from the walls, the past invading the present. This invasion is further manifested when the party guests from the past somewhat coincidentally begin to arrive in the present. They do not seem to have aged at all in twenty years. They are not the ghosts, though; Jan’s mother is. “When you decide to become a man, I will come back,” she says at one point, and during his wedding night, Jan sees his mother’s face in place of his wife’s. He is unable to fulfill the conjugal act and leaves his wedding bed to join the guests, who have been screening a homemade pornographic film in the room next door. It should be noted that underneath the abuse and heavy symbolism represented in Night Games, there is also a comic tendency, one instance of which is this porn film, which illustrates the guests’ endless quest for debauched fun as well as their narcissism. Of course they sit down to watch a pornographic film starring themselves! This point is underscored by one woman standing in the projector’s beam so that the film is screened onto her underwear.
The Oedipal connections are impossible not to make. Jan experiences sexual impotence, which very clearly symbolizes his helplessness in the face of his childhood trauma and the burden of his financially privileged background. There is also a sadistic streak in his relationship with his fiancée, which in the beginning of the film is portrayed as a playfulness that only borders on meanness, but which later becomes more aggressive. Further underlining the Freudian elements of the narrative, a trunk representing Irene is buried in a well in the basement (the id), and when Jan and his fiancée bring it up and open it, it contains nothing but some moldy clothes. Ultimately, however, it is not simply his mother who is the problem—the entire castle needs to be blown to smithereens before Jan can be liberated.
In a television interview she gave during the making of the film, Zetterling was asked what its working title, “Longing,” meant. “Longing for emancipation,” Zetterling explained. “Oh, you mean female emancipation?” the interviewer asked. “No, human emancipation; it is much more important,” she replied. Night Games aligns itself neatly with the strand of Zetterling’s worldview that sees clinging to material comfort, to privilege, and to the past as leading to a prison of vain futility and a disconnection from true life.
Reviled by critics and avoided by audiences at the time of its release (it had fewer than twenty-seven thousand ticket buyers in Sweden, while hundreds of thousands had gone to see both Loving Couples and Night Games), The Girls is today probably the most often screened of Zetterling’s films. Accused of being behind the times in 1968 for its dim view of the state of Swedish gender relations and equality, it has again and again proved its continuing relevance, speaking to experiences of being disregarded, harassed, or ostracized that many women recognize. Not least, the difficulties in combining work and motherhood that are exemplified in the film seem, pessimistically, timeless. A comedy at which no one in the audience “laughed, or even smiled,” according to Zetterling’s 1984 autobiography, All Those Tomorrows, The Girls has become known as the film that largely halted her career in Sweden for eighteen years, and its reception—in particular Swedish journalist Bo Strömstedt’s characterization of the movie as “congested menstruations”—has become notorious. With the overall critical focus on the film as feminist, its other characteristics—such as its antiwar message, its modernist cinematic style, and its critique of the comforts of the Swedish welfare state, which are both a hindrance to the emancipation of the protagonists and a source of alienation and miscommunication—are still often overlooked.
The year 1968 is significant, because second-wave feminism was just arriving in Sweden and had not yet entered mainstream discourse. Reviewers who criticized the film looked back to the national discussion of “gender roles” that had taken place in the early sixties, when many in Sweden had for a few years taken a liberal perspective on women’s rights, whereas second-wave feminism was born out of the leftist movement, the Vietnam protests, and the counterculture and would gain momentum in the seventies. The almost exclusively male corpus of reviewers could not see how the film had the potential to participate in this (coming) discussion. Instead, they reacted negatively to the portrayals of men in the film, which they viewed as caricatures.
Weaving different narrative levels into a complex structure, The Girls deviates from the style of many contemporaneous Swedish films—such as I Am Curious – Yellow (1967), Badarna (The Bathers, 1968), or You’re Lying! (1969)—which were most often in a straightforward realist, even documentary-like, mode. It tells the story of a troupe of actors touring Sweden with a production of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, a Greek comedy about women attempting to end the war between Sparta and Athens by withholding sex from men. The Girls’ three protagonists are played by Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, and Gunnel Lindblom, and the film sets up correlations between the real-life actors’ names, those of their characters, and those of the characters’ roles in the play: Bibi Andersson (whose given name was Berit Elisabet) plays Liz, who plays Lysistrata; Harriet Andersson plays Marianne, who plays Myrrhine; and Lindblom plays Gunilla, who plays Kalonike. With these similarities, Zetterling provides a key to how The Girls can be understood: everything is connected—even on a meta level, since this is, after all, a film about actors directed by a former actor.
The diegetic reality of the three women’s daily life on tour, their performances of Lysistrata, and their inner visions or fantasies are intertwined: having honed her craft through her two previous flashback films, here Zetterling artfully lets the levels float into and influence one another. A scene from the tour can conclude with dialogue from the play on the soundtrack and continue into an inner vision. The visions, as a kind of expression of mental subjectivity, belong commonsensically to the person who is having them, but the three actors will eventually share one another’s visions, and what happens in them can affect what happens on the tour. If the threshold between past and present is almost nonexistent in Night Games, it is the thresholds between states of mind that have nearly disappeared in The Girls. Still, the film is never difficult to navigate or understand.
The Girls embodies Zetterling’s insider/outsider perspective on Sweden, as did The Prosperity Race and as would a later documentary, Mai Zetterling’s Stockholm (1979). A Canadian production, Mai Zetterling’s Stockholm has a much lighter and more humorous touch than The Prosperity Race, but it still highlights the Swedish desire for safety and material comforts. Between the two documentaries, the director addressed these ideas in The Girls by engaging with architecture, using modernist, concrete, functionalist buildings as a metaphor for a society that keeps people secure by cutting them off, from the realities of life and from social connections. “Swedes are for themselves alone,” Zetterling says in The Prosperity Race, and this could be said for the Sweden of The Girls too. We see this sense of alienation in the Ralph Erskine–designed high-rise in Kiruna in which Liz desperately tries to have real conversations with the head of the tourist office and his wife, and in the shopping mall in Luleå where Gunilla flees from a horde of children. The critic Sun Axelsson—whose review, the only one for a major Swedish publication written by a woman, was an outlier amid the movie’s generally negative reception—commented that the film could “have been made only by a person who has lived long enough outside of Sweden to have the distance and strength to experience the lack of human connection and the hostility as such an urgent and serious problem in society.”
The Prosperity Race, The Girls, and Mai Zetterling’s Stockholm all contain references to large bomb shelters. In the fifties and sixties, several so-called “population” bomb shelters were constructed in Sweden in case of a nuclear attack, each designed to fit thousands of people. In The Girls, the actresses are guided around the interior of the Mariaberget bomb shelter in Västerås, which covers an area of almost eight square meters underground. The scene serves the dual purpose of critiquing masculine “rationality” as a response to fear and reinforcing the film’s antiwar message. Modernity, welfare society, and warfare are all associated with a rational or cynical masculinity in several scenes in the film. For instance, when Gunilla enters one of the rooms of the bomb shelter, she has a vision of a hurt child in a forest. In the vision, she runs to find her husband, who sits in his easy chair by a fireplace in the middle of the forest and explains to her, absurdly, that the child is probably just suffering from measles.
The accusations that were leveled against Zetterling of making her male characters into idiots and caricatures seem especially unfair, however, considering that she also shows her female protagonists to be weak, inarticulate, and too easily seduced by material comforts and their husbands’ or lovers’ care. Gunilla’s impulse to find her husband when she comes across the child, rather than offering help herself, shows her dependence on the man in her life, a reliance that is unjustified by his behavior. Nevertheless, the film also clearly demonstrates that one reason for the three women’s dependence is their children, who put a strain on the mothers and place them in a position of need. The one among them who has the fortitude to step up and try to express what they all feel is Liz, who is childless. The other two are trapped by motherhood. In Zetterling’s films, motherhood is never a blessing—it may be wanted and wished for, like Angela’s baby in Loving Couples, and the children may be loved (although this love can be misguided and harmful, as in Night Games), but ambivalence and heavy responsibility inevitably come with it.
The French theorist Simone de Beauvoir loved The Girls, and she and Zetterling planned to collaborate on an adaptation of her book The Second Sex. According to a brief treatment, written as a proposal, now held in the Zetterling collection at the archive of the Swedish Film Institute, it was to have been made as a television series in seven episodes, each set in a different part of the world. Sadly, nothing came of the project. Nevertheless, the proposal indicates Zetterling’s original approach to adaptation as well as her willingness to negotiate, sometimes shrewdly, to find opportunities for work. For instance, in the Second Sex treatment, she suggests that one woman be both main character and narrator of each episode, to minimize the need for subtitling and make a global marketing approach manageable. After The Girls’ reception, Sandrews was reluctant to finance Zetterling’s next film. In the seventies, she would work mainly outside of her home country, resulting in an impressive and fragmented oeuvre made across several nations—including the segment on weight lifters in Visions of Eight, about the Olympic Games in Munich, and the Danish-funded documentary Of Seals and Men, which focuses on the seal hunt in Greenland. In the eighties, Zetterling returned to theatrical feature filmmaking with a British film, Scrubbers, and then at last to Swedish cinema with Amorosa. The three Swedish films collected here, however, constitute the only sustained production within a national art cinema in Zetterling’s industrious career. They encapsulate her fascination with sexuality and reproduction, her social critique, her wry humor, and her vivid visual imagination. Loving Couples, Night Games, and The Girls demonstrate the development of a distinct and original cinema artist, who defied expectations and became an inspiration for many filmmakers who have followed, both in terms of her cinematic style and narrative concerns and her daring to challenge a biased system.
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