The best Swedish film of its kind since “My Life as a Dog,””The Slingshot” is an exquisite period piece, combining humor, tragedy and uplifting optimism. It has definite hit potential in Scandinavia, and may have legs strong enough to carry it throughout the world.
Pic is based on an autobiographical novel by Roland Schutt, telling of his life in Stockholm in the 1920s and 1930s. Tome’s unusual structure led most observers to consider it unfilmable, but writer-director Ake Sandgren has done a terrific job of extracting episodes and moods from the book so as to preserve its essence.
That essence consists of burlesque comedy, brooding atmosphere and optimism. Roland’s father is a devoted socialist with a bad leg and no desire to do real work. Mother, a Jewish refugee from Russia, runs a tobacco shop where she also secretly sells condoms, which were outlawed in Sweden at the time.
Roland, a Jew and a socialist, suffers from prejudice at school and from his mates, but he has a life spirit and sarcastic attitude that keep him going, even when things turn bleak. He’s also an inventive young man, making slingshots from steel and condoms that he peddles to neighborhood boys, and eventually managing to take revenge on his sadistic teacher and principal.
Acting is superb, especially young Jesper Salen as Roland and the leering Ernst-Hugo Jaregard as his racist, sadistic teacher. Production design, in particular, is also tops, creating a realistic picture of a Stockholm that no longer exists.
Although a couple of side stories, especially one concerning a tragic young prostitute whom Roland befriends, are not sufficiently developed, Sandgren has created a film that is thoroughly entertaining and that has enough levels to keep it resonant with viewers long after they’ve seen it.