26 July 2020 | MidoriFiore
I'm Twelve Years Old and What is This?
To say this is different is an understatement from the ages. As far as historical films in Sweden goes, you have the very theatrical films of the 50's and 60's and the mostly very stiff and valium-based films of the 2000's and 2010's. Then there is this.
The story follows a nameless smith who is visited by three bandits played by the boss from Evil Ed, Jonathan Lionheart and infamous Swedish actor Thorsten Flinck. The bandits force the smith to melt down some stolen silver when the reeve and his posey, played by Per Oscarsson & Kjell Bergqvist, attack. The bandits flee and the poor smith is dragged off as to the headsman to be beheaded, despite his innocence. But when the headsman rapes and kills a female prisoner in a drunken rage, the reeve anoints the smith the new headsman. His first gig is the beheading of the old headsman. Satisfied with his new headsman, the reeve drops the former smith off at a brothel to spend his fee. At the brothel, the transsexual madame introduces him the new "asset" of the brothel, Ursula, who the smith falls in love with.
If we take the positive elements first, this has some of the strongest world building I've ever seen in a Swedish film. There is a constant presence of strange background elements and details the immerse you into the world of the film, the eve of the 18th century. A skeleton hanging outside the headsman's house, a drunk man cursing the whores outside the local brothel, corpses hanging from the city walls and the incredibly strange scene where a man does a breakdance on the execution block. The films was shot in Visby and at the outdoor museum of Skansen in Stockholm, which normally are scenic and idyllic. Here they are shot in darkness and smoke and looks like an absolute hellhole. Everybody except the smith, Ursula and the headsman's kind assistant, the knacker, comes off as a complete psychopath. The cinematography is fantastic with Hrafn Gunnlaugsson's signature flowing camerawork and editing doing wonders.
What really drives the film down is the atrocious acting and dubbing. At times it's laughable. Niklas Ek who plays the smith was clearly chosen for his expressive face, because every line he says comes off as unnatural. Ursula, played by Icelandic model Stephanie Sunna Hockett, was equally chosen for he looks and not her acting talents. She is dubbed unconvincingly by Inga-Lill Andersson. Kjell Bergqvist is terrible and overacts. The only actor with some dignity is Per Oscarsson who despite the bad dubbing for the only time in his career comes off as bad ass. That he manages to get his part to work despite all is a testament to what a talent he was. The pacing of the film is off too. The second half of the films really drags and it seems Hrafn had trouble extending the short story the film is based on into feature length. The 80's music is out of place, but the more period accurate pieces fit perfectly.
In the end, Bödeln och Skökan/the Headsman and the Whore/Middle Ages Now is a uneven but very memorable film which does not hold up to Hrafn's the Raven Flies or The Shadow of the Raven, but is well worth a watch for it's visuals, atmosphere and just bonkers content.