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Sweden’s National Character Examined In Melancolic ‘Vintersaga,’ Premiering At Prestigious CPH:DOX

A scene from 'Vintersaga'

EXCLUSIVE: Maybe it’s the cold. Or the relatively few hours of daylight in wintertime. Or perhaps a genetic predisposition. Whatever the case, Sweden and melancholia have become synonymous over time, a national trait explored so memorably in cinema by Ingmar Bergman and in other artforms, like sculpture. Marie-Louise Ekman’s 1,300-pound iron statue called “The Swedish Melancholy,” on display in the city of Linköping, depicts a man in sweater and cap crying actual tears (well, rivulets supplied through internal water pipes).

Sweden’s essential melancholy is explored anew in the artform of documentary film, in Vintersaga, which makes its world premiere this Sunday at the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen, Denmark. Carl Olsson directed the documentary, which features dozens of characters who embody, in one way or another, the Swedish soul. We have your first look at the film in the clip above.

“Capturing contemporary Sweden in its diversity and its contradictions,” the film’s logline states, “Vintersaga uses 24 meticulously framed scenes from the country’s walks of life to create a bitter-sweet and richly detailed panorama of the country’s melancholy soul, organized around the verses of Swedish musician and artist Ted Ström’s eponymous song from 1984.”

'Vintersaga' poster
Ginestra Film

Vintersaga is produced by Ginestra Film/Antonio Russo Merenda in co-production with Film iVäst/Kristina Börjeson & Jenny Luukkonen, Filmpool Nord/Katja Härkönen, Final Cut forReal/Anne Köhncke. 

“Apart from being a somewhat self-defining part of Scandinavian mentality, melancholy is a multifaceted term as it embraces feelings that are in fact contradictory,” Olsson notes in a director’s statement. “There is sadness, but also a kind of romantic beauty. A memory of a deceased friend can be painful, but at the same time we do not want to let it go. Melancholy as a concept has complexity enough to generate diverse interpretations, which makes it interesting to work with in an artistic context.”

Olsson continues, “Even though Vintersaga is portraying parts of the lives of its 55 participants, it is to me a very personal film. The scenes and situations of the film are inspired by my own experience growing up in Sweden. Just like the characters in the film, I have also been freezing on rainy football fields, had deep conversations on the balcony at home parties or, in lack of places to go, hung out in underpasses in the suburbs. So with the help of their own lives, the participants have been helping me to create my personal and subjective portrait of my home country.”

Vintersaga is an acquisition title out of CPH:DOX, with international sales being handled by CAT&Docs. The film is directed by Olsson directs and produced by Antonio Russo Merenda. Cinematography is by Mathias Døcker; the editor is Sofie Steenberger. The original score is by Ted Ström (composer of the 1984 title song), Albin Ström & Johan Ström. The film’s poster image comes from a painting by Ted Ström.

In the exclusive clip above, a couple of bakery workers take a break outside their workplace. One of them says quietly, “Nobody cares about me and I don’t care about them. I’ve explained and explained, but no one tries to understand.” How’s that for melancholy?

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