• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:March 8, 2022

Simple-Minded Murderer: Walking with Angels

Stellan SkarsgĂĄrd. Photo: SF

Hans Alfredson is the kind of filmmaker who could draw big audiences, who won awards and critical praise. A multitalented giant within Sweden’s showbiz community, he never really gained attention abroad. Perhaps his talent and sense of humor were too uniquely Swedish. When he passed away at the age of 86 a few weeks ago, the news brought forth a wave of nostalgia; I was thrilled to work on a commemorative issue of my newspaper.

Known above all for his talent to provoke laughs, Alfredson did reach international audiences with The Simple-Minded Murderer, shown at the Berlin film festival and in the U.S., among other places… but this is definitely not a comedy. It’s a dark rumination on evil and how to deal with it.

Teased as “the Idiot”
In southern Sweden in the 1930s, the poor Sven (Stellan Skarsgård) suffers from a cleft lip and can’t speak properly. Constantly teased by other children who call him ”the Idiot”, Sven grows up with his mother, but when she dies of cancer he is taken in by a local factory owner called Höglund (Hans Alfredson). This is not an act of kindness; Höglund lets him sleep in the barn and uses him as a worker in his household without paying him. Sven is an immensely kind person who accepts his station in life. Sometimes he reads his Bible and has visions of three angels who visit him.

Eventually, Sven meets a girl in a wheelchair, Anna (Maria Johansson), and is smitten; she’s the daughter of a neighbor (Per Myrberg) who learns about Sven’s situation and is infuriated. He lets Sven stay at his home, but Höglund won’t give him up that easily…

Horrifying lust for life
Alfredson could be very funny, but he also had a political streak. He based this movie on a short story of his that takes place in an era shortly before evil threw the world into war. Höglund is not just a factory owner, but a very active member of the local Nazi party. Alfredson portrays him (in his role as director and actor) as a symbol of ultimate evil – this is a man who despises weakness, mistreats his wife and rapes his female workers. All of this is done with a horrifying sort of lust for life; gluttony is an important part of Höglund’s life as he eats, drinks and fucks, completely oblivious to the suffering of the many victims around him.

This sounds like an intolerable person to spend an entire movie with, but the film is largely an allegory, a fantasy rooted in reality. Alfredson finds a remarkable way to play the character – with a tremendous dose of dark humor. The factory owner is a devil and we are equally horrified, amused and disgusted by him. And if there’s a devil, there should also be angels; Sven’s heavenly visions are powerfully accompanied by Verdi music and the effects of Jörgen Persson’s earthy but beautiful cinematography. They become our as well as Sven’s guide down the road that leads to a murder committed by a simple-minded man. The answer to the question of right and wrong is complicated and Alfredson leaves it up to us viewers to ponder. Skarsgård’s international breakthrough is one of his best roles; it’s a lovable character and the actor skilfully captures his simplicity and wide-eyed, childish approach to life.

If you’re cynical, you may have objections. For instance, the girl in the wheelchair may seem like a contrived ingredient, only there to bring audiences to tears. But again, this is a fantasy meant to provoke emotions, and also a political reaction against an era we never want to see again. As such, the film is successful.

The Simple-Minded Murderer 1982-Sweden. 108 min. Color. Produced by Waldemar Bergendahl. Direction, Screenplay, Short Story: Hans Alfredson. Cinematography: Jörgen Persson. Cast: Stellan Skarsgård (Sven), Hans Alfredson (Höglund), Maria Johansson (Anna), Per Myrberg, Lena-Pia Bernhardsson, Tomas Alfredson… Lars Amble, Lena Nyman, Gösta Ekman, Björn Andrésen, Daniel Alfredson, Stellan Sundahl.

Trivia: Original title: Den enfaldige mördaren.

Berlin: Best Actor (SkarsgĂĄrd).

Last word: “Hasse called and said that he wanted to see me. We met in a cafe right across the backstage entrance of Dramaten [most famous theatre in Sweden]. He wanted me to read the script right there while he was sitting and watching me – and that was quite a strange situation of course. (laugh) But I read it and thought it was totally fantastic. It surely is a very rewarding role. You can circle around as much as possible. I could do whatever. And Hasse let me do whatever indeed.” (SkarsgĂĄrd, StellanOnline.com)



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