“Kärlekens Krigare” (2009)
Simon Staho’s “Kärlekens Krigare” ( “Warriors of Love”) is an interesting use of the limited regressive tools of filmmaking resulting by ignoring just over a century’s worth of accumulated advances in style and technological shortcutting which have come to form the modern grammar of cinema.
At times the film often seems in conscious defiance of the very term “motion picture” to predate all but the most elemental of building blocks of the cinema with its stubborn use of a fixed lens on a still subject; often a character stiffly posed to stare directly through the fourth wall and, except for minute facial muscular variations, remaining frozen in time as if enslaved by the extended exposure that was a prerequisite in the early photographic process. Rather than the continuous stimulus overload of a progressive visual narrative, in which the mind is captive to the onrush of often inconsequential but distracting information, Staho’s film moves at an appreciably measured pace allowing a full absorption and contemplation of the contents and ramifications of every scene and every hesitant utterance. With his method of filming “Kärlekens Kigare”, Staho not only bridges the gap between the aesthetics of still photography and the motion picture which accordingly alters the way in which the viewer perceives the material. The audience is encouraged to deeply observe with the intellect and not just to merely see.
“Kärlekens Krigare” presents a simple, but emotionally complex situation (the narrative is so threadbare it hardly qualifies as a story), though given the austere nature of the film and its resultant miserly exposition, the audience is placed at a distinct disadvantage to identify any particular dynamic: Just who are Ida (Josefin Ljungman) and Karin (Shima Niavarani)? What is their relationship? What is the purpose of their journey? And most importantly, what is the cause of the cloud of melancholy which seems to bear mightily on them? Many (not all) of these questions are addressed by the mid-point of the film, especially in a startling scene beginning with the two women serenely laying in the high grasses of a meadow and continues with Ida quietly relating what sounds like a child’s tale about a troll but eventually revealing itself as a horrific remembrance of assault and betrayal. The scene is all the more powerful for the emotionally passive way in which Ida narrates her story, the full import of what she reveals reflected only in the reaction of growing stunned silence by Karin. Little has been overtly communicated between the two, despite their intimate closeness- the dialogue throughout the film is sparse -yet the effect of Ida’s story will change the course of the two women forever as Karin feels empowered to effect an extreme act that will successfully serve as vengeance but fall tragically short of the psychic bandage she hopes will result. The film ends with a desperate and heartbreaking decision made in the name of love.
The psychological oppression experienced by the film’s two characters (no others are seen except peripherally) is magnified by the stark minimalism of Staho’s aesthetic. His frequent use of unnatural, fixed positioning of Ida and Karin cannot help but recall the haunting photography of Diane Arbus, and the camera’s merciless extended the probing of faces of those suffering a distressed pathology is meant to elicit a similar disquieting contemplation that intends to instill a cumulative unease in the viewer. However, as admirable as it is for Staho to extend his artistic ambitions beyond a safe, traditionally comforting (and less demanding) visual aesthetic, his ability to reconcile the devastating emotional core of the material with the arid formality of its presentation conflicts with the audience’s natural hunger for less impersonally engineered dramatization. Ironically, this may weaken the film’s final act which, although presented with remarkable emotional force, may seem a surrender to a manipulative sentimentality that the rest of the film assiduously strains to avoid. Still, the director is aided in his task with remarkably disciplined and accomplished performances by his talented young actresses; both of whom manage the unenviable task of withholding overt expressions of emotion while revealing only the minutest traces of suppressed passions; both performances are models of simmering melancholia. Nevertheless, the film’s appeal may be limited to only those with adventurous designs on the cinema, necessarily fortified by a surfeit of patience.