All Things Fair (1995)

 “Frank was a hostage I took once.”

all-things-fairIt’s Sweden in 1943, and teenager Stig (Johan Widerberg) is a 15-year-old boy whose attention is focused on the female sex. The notes sent around the classroom, the whispered debates, and the mythology surrounding sexuality all indicate that Stig and his classmates don’t really have a clue what sex is all about, but it’s still a subject that occupies their minds. A new teacher is assigned to the class–a prim and proper, attractive, married 37 year old, named Viola (Marika Lagercrantz). Before too long, Viola and Stig are engaged in a steamy affair.

It’s fairly easy for Stig to have an affair with his beautiful teacher, and it’s also easy for him to keep it a secret from his family. Stig’s family life is decent–but claustrophobic. He lives in a tiny flat with his mother, has a semi-adversarial relationship with his father, and is deeply attached to a brother who’s serving on a submarine in the Swedish navy. Stig’s job as a cinema usher allows him some freedom of movement–plus Viola’s lingerie salesman husband travels away from home. Things begin to unravel when Stig meets and befriends Viola’s husband, Frank (Tomas von Bromsson). Frank is a pitiful drunk whose eccentric inventions are endearing at best, and annoying if you’re Viola. During the course of the affair, Frank declines, and as with all typically pathological marriages, it’s impossible to identify cause and effect. Is Frank the victim of Viola’s appetites or the cause of them?

While the film plot may sound cliched, it isn’t. Writer/director Bo Widerberg (father of the actor who plays Stag) elevates the film far above the tawdry, cliched stereotypes, and instead All Things Fair is a serious, rather beautiful depiction of one teenager’s exposure to the ugliness of adult life. There’s a poignancy here that is both refreshing and bittersweet. The story hints at a sense of impending doom and the backdrop of WWII underscores this. While the war is far away, the effects of it are still present. Stig battles silently at home with moral dilemmas but the distant echoes of a world at war carry horrific ramifications. All Things Fair is in Swedish with English subtitles.

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