Bo Widerberg, a leading figure in Swedish cinema who directed 1967’s acclaimed “Elvira Madigan” and three Academy Award-nominated films, died Thursday in a hospital in Angelholm, Sweden, after a long illness. He was 66.
His most recent Oscar nomination was in 1996 for “All Things Fair” as best foreign-language film. The movie recounts an intense relationship between a 15-year-old high school student — played by Widerberg’s son Johan — and his 37-year-old female teacher.
But Widerberg is best known around the world for “Elvira Madigan,” about the tragic romance between a young Danish tightrope-walker and a Swedish lieutenant. The movie was popular for its romance and for its use of classical music, including Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, which is now widely called “the Elvira Madigan theme.”
His previous Oscar nominations, also for foreign-language film, were in 1964 for “Raven’s End” and in 1969 for “Adalen 31.”
“Raven’s End,” about the poor quarter of a Swedish city in the 1930s, was named best Swedish movie ever made in a poll two years ago by a Stockholm arts publication.
“Adalen 31” is based on labor strife in 1931, when five people died after police opened fire on a workers’ march.
“Art is a way of defending yourself, not to let life slip past without comment,” Widerberg once told the Swedish film magazine Chaplin. “You highlight what is desirable: love, a good piece of cheese on a clean tablecloth, pears and red wine under an oak tree.”
Widerberg’s sharp realism put him at odds with Swedish film titan Ingmar Bergman. In a 1962 essay he challenged Bergman’s choice of themes, saying there were more important questions to explore than the existence of God.
Widerberg began his artistic career as a novelist, then branched into film in 1963 with “The Baby Carriage.”
“He brought the French new wave to Sweden. Swedish film changed course and style after his debut,” director Jan Troell said upon hearing of Widerberg’s death.