Romanticizing social politics: “Ådalen 31” [1969 Sweden]

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Bo Widerberg’s social drama “Ådalen 31” [Eng. Title: Adalen Riots] concerns itself with a working class family during a tragic 1931 strike in the industrial town of Ådalen. The strike spread nationwide and was a turning point in Swedish politics that eventually gave birth to a welfare state.

Objecting mill owners’ suggestion to accept a pay cut, the town’s entire workforce decide to strike in unison. The film starts on a bright summer’s morning – only, the men won’t be going to their factories, and children won’t go to school. They’d already been without work and income for several weeks, and there is an air of despondence among the folk that vividly contrasts the town’s lush surroundings. Father of the household Harald (Roland Hedlund) is seen telling off his two sons for engaging in a mock fight – he reminds them that they’ll only get hungry and want to eat more. Mother Karin (Kerstin Tidelius) is more concerned about their shirt buttons dropping off during the fight. As Kjell (Peter Schildt) and younger brother Martin (Martin Widerberg) stop the fight, the circumstances of their household, and workers like them, become firmly established.

When mill owners hire scabs to try and ship an order to America, enraged townsfolk intervene using violence. The owners arm-twist local authorities into bringing in the army so that business could be conducted without disruption. Kjell and mill owner’s daughter Anna’s (Marie De Geer) class-defying romance and its repercussions will also be overshadowed by events that follow. During a demonstration, townsfolk marching towards the mill are warned by the army that live ammunition will be used if they didn’t stop. The message goes unregistered amidst the blaring band music, and in the confusion, five people get killed, among them Harald. As the new ‘man’ of the household, Kjell must now take the initiative and prepare his family for life without their beloved father…

The event helped bring down the conservative government and ushered in ground breaking social reforms in Sweden. The film, whilst portraying facts with a tinge of romantic idealism, goes further by examining both the desirable and undesirable attributes of the ruling and the ruled. “We must read… get knowledge – we’ll need it when we gain power”, reminds Kjell to a defiant strike worker in one scene, which also sums up Widerberg’s message in the film. Made immediately after his acclaimed “Elvira Madigan” (an unashamedly beautiful tearjerker if there was one), Widerberg imbues some of its melancholy into the film, albeit in a more restrained fashion. Even if Widerberg had consistently critiqued Bergman throughout his career, there is an unconscious Bergman-influence in his characters’ sensibilities that foreigners like us have come to associate as quintessentially Swedish. The film’s cinematography is way ahead of its time, and the scenario is breathtaking. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

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The Nudity: Elisabet Wallin
Lighter moments of the film are taken up by Kjell’s budding romance with rich girl Anna, and his friend Nisse’s (Jonas Bergström) fumbling attempts at seducing girls in his working class neighbourhood. There’s nudity in a scene where Nisse ‘successfully’ hypnotises and disrobes his latest subject (Elisabet Wallin), only to be interrupted and asked to rejoin the band that’s fronting the workers’ procession. The girl has obviously not fallen under his spell – she’s just as curious as him and only pretends so. 🙂

Marie De Geer and Elisabet Wallin nude in Adalen 31

Marie De Geer and Elisabet Wallin in Bo Widerberg’s “Ådalen 31”.



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