1939. (1989) DIRECTED BY GORAN CARMBACK.
STARRING HELENE ENGLUND, HELENE BERGSTROM AND PER MORBERG.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is a magnificent film to look at, set as it is in neutral Sweden during World War Two. Firstly, on the subject of being neutral during World War Two. Winston Churchill, a decent enough cove, accused Sweden of ignoring the greater moral issues of the war and playing both sides, the Allies and the Axis Powers, for profit.
She (Sweden) provided Germany with steel and machine parts, and permitted German soldiers on leave to travel freely through her country on their way to Norway or Germany. This doesn’t sound like Sweden was neutral exactly, but just saying she was neutral to get out of the conflict while favouring Germany slightly.
Before the war, Sweden refused to take in European Jews seeking even temporary refuge from the far-reaching arm of the Third Reich. When the tide of war shifted in favour of the Allies, however, she changed her tune a bit. Two Swedes, Count Folke Bernadotte and diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, are famous for having saved thousands of Jews’ lives towards the end of the war.
In fact, overall, again towards the end of the war, Sweden saved large numbers of Norway’s and Denmark’s imperilled Jews, so you could say that she maybe made up somewhat for her treatment of Jews before the war.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about neutrality myself. Has any country the right to remain ‘neutral’ while someone like Hitler is marauding across a continent and destroying it with fear, hatred, prejudice and ignorance? Not really…!
That’s why I kind of can’t understand why America aren’t wading in right now and helping Ukraine to defeat the Russians, who surely aren’t much better than Hitler and the Nazis? Are they afraid of starting the Third World War, and do they fear losing it also…?
Don’t worry, this isn’t a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I’m aware that my own country, the so-called Emerald Isle (ahem), was ‘neutral’ too during the war. A lot of folks, however, still think that we were pro-Germany.
We refused to close our German and Japanese embassies and, on the death of Hitler, our then Taoiseach (pronounced Tee-shock) Eamon de Valera visited the German ambassador in his official residence and GAVE HIM HIS CONDOLENCES ON BEHALF OF THE IRISH PEOPLE…! F**king hell. Eyebrows were raised Stateside, I can tell you.
We were apparently indifferent to the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust, and refused to take them into the country on the grounds that they would steal Irish jobs, houses and food and cause anti-Semitic unrest wherever they landed.
We’ve made up for it a bit, years later, by taking in literally any and every Ukrainian person who fled here after the war with Russia was declared, but we should still be disgusted with ourselves for our collective behaviour during the Second World War.
After all that, now onto the film! It’s the story of an attractive young blonde Swedish woman (is there any other kind?) called Annika who, in 1939, leaves her childhood home on the farm in rural Sweden and travels to Stockholm, the Big Smoke, to start a new, hopefully more exciting life. Here, she meets the two most important people in her life: Berit, her best friend in the whole world, and her husband, Bengt.
Annika and Berit work in a hotel restaurant kitchen, share a flat together and live a wildly sociable life of parties, dates and dances together in neutral Sweden during the early years of the war. The men aren’t all away fighting Hitler (like they maybe should be?) and so the two pretty young ones have no shortage of willing, horny suitors.
Berit is played by the beautiful Helena Bergstrom, who portrayed Astrid, Bill Nighy’s gorgeous but pissed-off Swedish wife, in STILL CRAZY in 1998. Berit is a tragic and fragile figure, brought up without a mother. Now a bubbly brunette, she’s tough on the outside, but as soft as butter inside. She’s devotedly loyal to Annika, and would do anything for her.
She’s desperately gay- in the original sense of the word!- and laughs and giggles her way through life and work. She’s man-mad, of course, and when she becomes pregnant with a baby that has as many as three possible Baby-Daddies, she’s determined to go through with the pregnancy and keep the child, while knowing that it’s gonna be hard, real hard.
Meanwhile, Annika is married to her dream guy, Bengt, the athlete son of a rich merchant, who can afford to keep Annika in furs, jewels and fancy hats. It’s quite distasteful watching Annika wear her gorgeous fur coat, a gift from hubby, while thousands of Jews and others are perishing in the concentration camps.
In fairness to Annika, I don’t think she knows much, if anything, about concentration camps, even though her cousin Hans was put in one for being a communist, but she doesn’t seem to care for her new finery and fripperies much. She values her friendship with Berit more, much, much more.
The dream marriage turns into a nightmare when Bengt shows himself to be a domineering bully of a husband, the kind who says, show me your phone, and where have you been till now? He thinks Annika has had too much independence up to now, going drinking and dancing with that pregnant slut Berit, and he intends to curb that independence, with force if necessary.
What will happen to Annika and the poor love-starved Berit? Where will they be when the All-Clear finally sounds over a relieved but battered Europe? I sincerely hope they stay together, as friends who are practically family.
1939 is an excellent film, with some gorgeous sweeping views of Sweden, great costumes and make-up and hairstyles. Helena Bergstrom wins my Best Actress accolade, and then of course there’s the whole question of neutrality to mull over as well. Happy mulling…