• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:November 17, 2020

Ă…dalen 31: Worker Against Worker

adalen31When the director of Elvira Madigan (1967) took on another historical event, he may not have realized that he was likely to bite off more than he could chew. Elvira Madigan portrayed an isolated personal tragedy, made famous for its romantic aura. Ă…dalen 31, however, targeted an important political conflict in Swedish history that had far-reaching consequences. Little of this is visible in Bo Widerberg’s film. Still, those who fell in love with Elvira Madigan will once again be enchanted and touched by his story of a working-class family caught up in bloody turmoil.

Strike at a pulp factory
Ă…dalen, northern Sweden, 1931. We are introduced to the Andersson family, where dad Harald (Roland Hedlund) takes part in a sympathy strike with workers at a pulp factory who are protesting a cut in salaries. Days are spent together with his family and he’s trying to make ends meet. His oldest son Kjell (Peter Schildt) plays jazz in a band with friends and gets to know Anna (Marie De Geer), the daughter of a sawmill manager. They have a fling, resulting in pregnancy, but the potential implications of their classless love is dwarfed by the rapidly escalating strike.

When the need to ship pulp to the U.S. becomes urgent, factory owners hire scabs to get the job done. The striking workers are outraged and try to attack the newcomers while police fend them off. However, the situation soon becomes so intense that local authorities call in heavily armed troops to face the workers…

Gripping results
What happened next is not entirely clear, but the commanding officer found a rally of demonstrators threatening enough to order his men to open fire. In the ensuing chaos, five people were killed by the military’s bullets and an additional five were injured. Unbelievably, no military leaders were convicted of any serious crimes. The most lasting consequence of the events is the fact that the use of military forces in civilian circumstances in Sweden is very restricted, and burdened by the term “Ă…dalen 31”, referring not only to the actual tragedy but also to the impact of Widerberg’s movie.

When the filming took place in Ă…dalen, barely 40 years had passed since the massacre and not everything went smoothly; people were wary of what kind of movie this would be as old wounds were reopened. However, most critics were pleased to see what Widerberg accomplished, and Ă…dalen 31 was nominated for several distinguished international awards. As expected, Jörgen Persson’s lush cinematography contrasts the horrors of that day with the beauty of summer, and the story takes us closer to the emotions of what happened by focusing on the Anderssons and the down-to-earth charm of Kjell’s passion for jazz and fumbling romantic attempts with Anna.

The results are indeed gripping, even though the frequent use of amateurs in the cast makes for an occasionally lively but uneven experience.

Widerberg scores easy points politically here. There are times when the dialogue becomes too obvious. Putting these events in a larger historical context wouldn’t have hurt. His stabs at showing us diversity among the striking workers are laudable, but this conflict was even more complex than we see here. In the future, there’s definitely room for another take on the events.

Ådalen 31 1969-Sweden. 114 min. Color. Widescreen. Written, directed and edited by Bo Widerberg. Cinematography: Jörgen Persson. Cast: Peter Schildt (Kjell Andersson), Kerstin Tidelius (Karin Andersson), Roland Hedlund (Harald Andersson), Marie De Geer, Anita Björk, Olof Bergström… Pierre Lindstedt. 

Trivia: Alternative title in English: Adalen Riots.

Cannes: Grand Prize of the Jury.



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