The New Film Country – a look at integration in Swedish fiction film in the 21st century

An article by
Karoline Eriksson, film critic and M.A in Film Studies
Beyond Dreams

At the turn of the millennium, a small but influential film wave managed not only to grab serious attention, but also to pave the way for a new narrative point of view in Swedish cinema.

It concerned a handful of fiction features about, and often directed by, people with Middle Eastern roots: Vingar av glas (‘Wings of Glass,’ Reza Bagher, 2000), Jalla! Jalla! (Josef Fares, 2000), Före stormen (‘Before the Storm,’ Reza Parsa, 2000) and Det nya landet (‘The New Country,’ Geir Hansteen-Jörgensen, 2000).

Unlike the productions of the 1990s, where skinheads and immigrant kids would engage in rough physical encounters, this new wave depicted cultural clashes in a more nuanced way and were told from personal experiences. Conflicts took place in everyday settings, often within the confines of domestic life, and a central recurring theme were the tensions created by parental expectations and the children’s desire to find their own paths in life. A trusty 1990s relic would remain in several of the stories: the Romeo and Juliet-like love stories, where a youth with immigrant background would fall in love with a white, ethnic Swede, and vice versa. In A Hell of a Row (Hus i helvete, Susan Taslimi, 2002), one of the later films of the wave, the focus is on patriarchal pressures, depicted decidedly darker than in the comparatively more light-hearted Jalla! Jalla!.

A common denominator for these films of the early 2000s with their overriding theme of integration, was the crossroad dilemma of either sticking with the ”old” ways or letting oneself be assimilated. Nazli in Vingar av glas, for example, calls herself Sara in order to blend into Swedish society and get a job more easily. Another characteristic feature in the depiction of Swedes with immigrant backgrounds was the emphasis on likeable and exotic personalities. With time, these portraits became less stereotypical.

Around 2010, a generational shift took place in front of as well as behind the camera. Films where Swedes with immigrant backgrounds were in focus would in a greater degree be told from a perspective of class and gender issues. The central conflict now revolved around the suburb versus the inner city, rather than on forced engagements, and the tone became more socially critical. Gabriela Pichler debuted in 2012 with Eat Sleep Die, where the low-educated Raša, with roots in the Balkans, interprets for her sick father at the health centre and struggles to be able to stay and work in a small town in Sweden. In Beyond Dreams (Rojda Sekersöz, 2017) and Money Problem (Nikeisha Andersson, 2017), the main characters are young women from segregated Stockholm suburbs who choose crime to break away from their constrained living conditions.

(originally published in Swedish in April, 2019; in English in May, 2020)

Selected titles:

  • The original television series, scripted by Peter Birro and Lukas Moodysson, was subsequently re-edited into a standalone feature for theatre and festival exhibition. Two asylum seekers, Massoud and Ali, escape from their depressive wait for residence permit and wind up on a road trip through Sweden in the company of a former Miss Sweden beauty contest winner.

  • This comedy was the first feature by director Josef Fares, whose big brother Fares Fares has the lead as Roro. His Swedish-Lebanese parents want him to marry Yasmin. Roro is afraid to tell them that he really wants to be with his girlfriend Lisa (Tuva Novotny). Yasmin, in turn, falls in love with Roro's impulse-controlled and impotent colleague Måns.

  • Halim moves with his father from a Stockholm suburb to the inner city borough of Södermalm. The dad tries with all his might to become a “proper” Swede while Halim fights against the "integration plan", and tries to preserve the memory of his dead mother. After Jonas Hassen Khemiri's novel with the same title from 2003.

  • Ruben Östlund's most controversial film to date is based on real events where teenagers from Gothenburg suburbs robbed Swedish middle-class youth without violence, but rather by playing on prejudices about the menacing immigrant youth.

  • A Polish middle class family is forced to join other guest workers in Sweden in order to make ends meet. In a strawberry field in the south of Sweden, teenage son Woytek meets the farmer’s daughter Anneli and shy love blossoms. But the Poles are seen as second-class citizens by Anneli’s surroundings and she has trouble standing up for their relationship.

  • The municipal council in a small industrial town has their hopes set high on a German low-price chain establishing itself in the area. The teenage girls Aida and Dana protest when “non-representative” images are cut out of the locally produced promotional video, while their respective families have different opinions on the degree of outspokenness that children of an immigrant family are allowed.