Elvira Madigan (Bo Widerberg / Sweden, 1967):

It takes Agnès Varda to unsettle prettiness (Le Bonheur), for Liebestod as a shampoo commercial you go to Bo Widerberg. The runaway mannequins in 1859 Denmark are a young aristocratic officer (Thommy Berggren) and a tightrope walker (Pia Degermark), who take refuge in the forest and spend the summer scampering around the meadow, catching butterflies, pretending to argue about the shape of clouds in the sky, and smiling bovinely at each other. "Sometimes I ask myself if we deserve to be this happy. What we’re doing is perhaps not allowed yet." It keeps returning to the gaze of moppets so you know it’s an enchanted tale, yet Widerberg can only excrete bogus innocence. The lovers yearn to shed social façades and become the emotions they feel for one another, but they’re let down by the oafish judge of beauty behind the camera. One pastel image is forever on the verge of dissolving into the next, Mozart and Vivaldi are Pavlovian bells dinged promiscuously for Instant Poignancy, even the supposedly stifling interiors the characters are revolting against look like they’ve been dipped in honey and left to dry in the sun. "War is not for fancy parades, it’s the smell of burnt flesh," somebody says over a postcard composition with trees haloed by dusky light. Romantic insurrection is an extended picnic. The tragedy isn’t that the heroine is reduced to showing off her knees (off-screen) at the burlesque house, but that her beloved isn’t there to hold her Rapunzel tresses when she lets out a dainty stream of puke. "If you look at a blade of grass that’s close to the eye, that blade is clear but nothing else is" -- declaration of the myopia of obsessive love, or admission of directorial blurriness? Malick offered the best rebuke in Badlands. Cinematography by Jorgen Persson. With Lennart Malmer, and Cleo Jensen.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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