Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ann and Eve



Ann and Eve
Original Title: Ann & Eve – De Erotiska
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Sweden, 1970
Thriller/Drama, 105min
Distributed by: Studio S Entertainment


Arne Mattsson, in my opinion one of the finest directors ever to have come out of Sweden. Sure you have to acknowledge the genius of Ingmar Bergman, the wild psychotronica of Bo A. Vibenius and the eroticism of Torgny Wickman to give a full spectrum of Swedish genre directors, but when it comes to over all top marks the prize goes to Arne Mattsson.

Born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1919 Mattson directed near some sixty movies in his extensive career. The most of his movies work off a classic drama basis interweaving themes from other genres. Be it comedy, horror, thriller or eroticism, there’s more to his movies than what meets the eye. His love of his hometown Uppsala never faded and many of his movies where shot there at locations that still stand to this day.

Internationally Mattsson made a mark with the Swedish summer movie Hon dansade en Sommar (One summer of Happiness) 1951 which won the Golden Berliner Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival – Sven Sköld won for best music. Hon dansade en Sommar was THE flick that started the wave of movies referred to as the Swedish Sin films, as Folke Sundqvist and Ulla Jacobsson went skinny dipping one warm summer evening.

The movies that he’s mostly remembered for domestically are the Hillman movies – a series of five movies about the detective couple John and Kajsa Hillman [Karl-Arne Holmsten and Annalisa Ericson] who solve intriguing mystery cases with the help of Freddy [Nils Hallberg]. All five films are often argued to be forerunners and influences upon the Italian Gialli, a claim I feel is taking things a bit to far – even if they are great movies. They are instead heavily influenced by the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, who supposedly once presented Mattsson with two cigars after a screening of Manekäng i rött (Mannequin in Red) 1958 telling Mattsson that it was a wonderful and terrifying movie. There’s no real evidence of the actual meeting taking place, but it’s a great tale, and one that Mattsson’s legacy is worth containing. The only thing that actually does link the movies to the Giallo genre is their fantastic names. The movies all contain a clear colour code throughout, and this colour scheme is all determined by the movies title: Damen i svart (The Lady in Black), Manekäng i rött (Mannequin in Red), Ryttare i blått (Rider in Blue) 1958, Vita Frun (Lady in White) 1962 and Den gula bilen (The Yellow Car) 1963 certainly have a Gialloesque feeling to them as there are strong colour referents and plot themes in the titles. (Even though Damen i svart, Vita frun and Den gula bilen where shot in black and white) but that’s about as far as it goes, and the movies are definitely more Hitchcock than Giallo. But with Manekäng i rött and Ryttare i blått in mind, I can certainly see the line of thought and actually like the idea that Mattsson could have a thing or two to do with that fantastic Italian sub genre.

Ann and Eve is a trippy movie of required taste. Perhaps not something that the fans of the Hillman movies would appreciate, perhaps not something for the fans of Mattson’s comedic dramas either. But if you are into mind-expanding movies with soft bossanova scores, hot chicks and a somewhat confusing plot, then this is definitely something that you have to check out.

Starting off with a rock hard opening as misandric movie critic Ann [Gio Petré] shoots down a man, Amos Mathews [Birger Malmsten], in cold blood as he stands in the middle of a circus ring, the movie gets of to a terrific start that established characters and traits. Ann leaves the country and heads to Italy with her friend Eve [Marie Liljedahl] who is soon to be married to her boyfriend Peter - who we never see. But apart from being a cold blooded killer, Ann is also completely set on corrupting the young innocent Eve, and makes sure at each possible moment to point out just how shallow and single minded men are. During a trip out on the seas with two fishermen, Walter [Heinz Hopf] and some other bloke, Ann oozes sexuality and slithers around until the two men can’t resist the urge to lay the two women. The next morning Ann takes off leaving Eve to wallow in her remorse and guilt. After confronting Eve and taunting her for her unfaithfulness towards hubby to be Peter, she claims that all women should make a trip like theirs, a trip to explore their sexuality and freedom

Eve’s initial bout of unfaithfulness sets a tone that will be played seductively throughout the movie, as the two women taunt and torment each other to the very end. An ending that in many ways is a dark and disturbing climax with out actually resolving any of the arc’s that have been building during the movie. But that works in favour of the movie, as I feel that an ending that resolves everything and ties the bow nicely would have been a lesser ending, and a more unbelievable ending.

In some screwed up way the movie is kind of a feminist movie. Ann is in all respects a radical feminist, who constantly proclaims her hatred of the opposite sex, and obviously prefers keeping her eye on the innocent Eve. She has a clear agenda to corrupt the Eve and trash the relationship she has with Peter - to give the young Eve the power to control men through her gender, or sex if you like. Each time Ann makes out with a bloke it’s on her initiation, she calls the shot’s and she lures them in like the simple-minded beasts she claims that they are. Unfortunately the ending I mentioned above breaks that line of thought and at the climax, the women are merely regressed to objects of desire and makers of fatal decisions. But my line of discussion doesn’t end there, as there are many ways to bend and twist that ending into a pinnacle of liking.

But even if Ann has a fixed agenda for Eve, be it plunge her into depravity or simply make her aware of her own sexuality before getting married, there’s complexity to Eve’s character, as she on one side is repulsed by her own hedonistic actions, and screams that she’s disgusting to her own mirror image, only to suddenly make a move on, and steal Ann’s preferred courter from right under her nose. The student becoming the master. The last scenes with Eve are pretty intense, and somewhat grim, but at the same time she shows no sign of rejction and could easilly escape her assailants if she really wanted. It’s quite possible that Ann has succeeded in her feminist agenda and that Eve walks away a stronger woman. I'll leave that decision with you, the viewer.

There’s a splendid power struggle going on between the two women as Ann constantly provokes, manipulates and teases Eve about her at first dedication to Peter, and later unfaithfulness to him – which constantly brings Eve to gut churning angst. But in her defence Eve is constantly stabbing Ann emotionally for her murder of Amos Mathews, which induces guilt ridden and harrowing flashbacks for Ann. It’s a great little interaction and it builds some great tension between the two leading ladies.

Gio Petré is always fascinating in roles where she get’s to play complex, cynical and nasty, which she often did in the many roles she did with Mattsson, but I always feel a huge weight of melancholy when watching movies with Petré, as she certainly led a hard and tormented life. I won’t get into that here, but the sadness that I feel shining though her eyes isn’t only great acting but also a deep-rooted sorrow. Something that makes her somewhat of a hard character to not empathise with – at least for me, but I’m sure that the emotion will differ with each individual viewer.

There’s no apparent linear plot to Ann and Eve, but it sure is an interesting movie that indices, provokes and perhaps poses more questions than answers. I’m quite sure that Mattsson knew exactly what he wanted to say with the film, even if the audience perhaps doesn’t. I’ll return to that line of though in a short while. Although while there is a fair bit of nudity, and some light eroticism in the movie, the film is unjustly referred to as an erotic thriller, which I fail to see the film as. Instead the movie walks more in the realms of the art movie, which causes some confusion, as you would expect a movie with the reputation that this one has to be more of one or the other.

The movie features a whole bunch of classic Swedish actors and actresses who still to this date are among the finest artists to have been put on the big screen, Petré had previously starred in seven movies for Mattsson, - among them three Hillman movies and the splendidly surreal Vaxdockan (The Doll) 1962 where she plays a live mannequin against Per Oscarsson’s delusional postman. Also the great Heinz Hopf in his ninth supporting role for Mattsson is in the movie, although I feel that his character Walther is terribly underused and there’s a sub plot that could have gone much further, and I though it would. But instead Hopf and his sinister sneer are merely reduced to a character arc that feels more like filler than anything else. The record for collaborations with Mattsson is held by Erik Hell, who with Ann and Eve included, starred in fifteen movies for the great director.
In an extraordinary way the movie’s lead protagonist, or rather antagonist, Ann and her mental conflict with Amos Mathews acts like a metaphor for Mattsson’s career. In the opening scene, where Ann shoots him down – a critic's slaying of a director. His name later produces some strong emotions each time she hears it – guilt of trashing his movies - and finally when she learns that he’s “taken his own life” (even though she symbolically kills him in the opening) she admits that she may have been responsible due to the fact that she and other critics had determined that they would trash his new movie “the emperor’s new clothes” upon release. Instead of taking more criticism the director took his own life. It’s an obvious metaphor for how Mattsson felt that the critics where acting towards him and his movies, especially considering how they praised him during the start of his career. Now Mattsson obviously didn’t take his own life, but going from the successful movies of his early career, there was no real acceptance of his exploration of dramas with subgenre traits and his movies where never as appreciated as those early mainstream pieces. Just like a few other Swedish directors before him Mattsson fled Sweden and it’s ignorance towards its native sons and moved to Spain during the late sixties where he would continue to produce movies for the international market. But the irony of it all is that the movies subtext was only realised in the frame of the movie. Ann and Eve obviously didn't become the last masterpiece as Amos Mathews' movie within the movie became after Ann made him a martyr for his art, instead Mattsson was once again hounded by the critics for his vision as the metaphor apparently was lost on them.

Fate works on strange ways, and Mattsson’s Ann and Eve actually did become one of the most successful Swedish movies ever at the American box office, helped on by the controversy of being seized by the US customs due to it’s erotic content. The movie also has its fair share of problem in the UK where it became the first ever movie to receive an X-rating. Keep in mind that this was still only the very early seventies and porn chic was still a thing of the future, so the soft erotica the movie portrays and the knowledge that it came out of Sweden made it a definitive threat to American and British moral values. but for Swedish cinema audiences it didn’t make much of an impression either as they the previous year had experienced Torgny Wickman’s documentary/sexploitation classic Kärlekens språk (Language of Love) 1969 showing in graphic detail what Mattsson only suggested. Trapped in between Swedish erotica and the forthcoming pornography explosion, Mattsson’s Ann and Eve made no major impact on Scandinavian audiences and critics called it a tragic, pathetic pornographic mess. Hard words for a movie that soon would be extremely tame considering what Swedish directors like Mac Ahlberg and US import Joe Sarno would be unleashing upon Scandinavian audiences, not to mention what was about to happen in the States.

Mattsson followed up Ann and Eve with the excellent thriller/drama Smutsiga Fingrar (Dirty Fingers) 1973 and only directed eight more movies up to 1989 when he decided to retire and leave us with the sixty something movies that are his legacy. A legacy that contains some of the greatest movies ever made in Sweden.


Image:

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo – English Dialogue, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish subtitles are optional

Extras:
There’s a reproduction of the Promotional brochure, film trivia and biographies for Mattsson, Liljedahl, Petré and Hopf (all in Swedish) and a whopping twenty-two trailers for other movies released by Studio S. But for some strange reason there isn’t a promo for Ann and Eve.


Ann and Eve (1970) US Theatrical Trailer
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4 comments:

Ninja Dixon said...

I love this movie, but I have to see it again soon. The character of Amos Mathews is interesting, because I guess he's just another name for Arne Mattsson - the director, the filmmaker, the clown in the circus. Killed by a critic.

Alex B. said...

Good to have you back, mate!
As usual your reviews are highly informative and educational.
Fred and you seem to have a lot of good to say about Mattson.
I will have to seek out some of his work.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Alex. You should, he's a master! Let me know if you have a problem finding stuff.

J.

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