Stockholm My Love brings poetry and cinema together in a way only Mark Cousins can. The critic-cum-director’s first dramatic feature is positively brimming with all the intellectual ambition of his previous non-fiction work.
Weaving together specific genre elements (the musical, the essay film, the city symphony) while pushing the visual envelope, Cousins and legendary DOP Christopher Doyle tell the story of one woman’s grieving process over the course of two days. The film is loosely structured into three parts which can be nicely interpreted as being purgatory, hell and, in the final act, heaven. In her screen debut, singer songwriter Neneh Cherry plays the enigmatic Alva, a Swedish architect playing hooky from work. As she wanders the streets, musing over a significant past trauma, it becomes clear that in Alva we have officially the second-saddest person to come out of Stockholm since Say Boy rapper Yung Lean.
Alava is a woman unable to take control of her emotions, as she lunges from moments of ecstatic wonder to near paralysing depression. I was drawn to scribbling ‘manic depressive manifesto’ in my notes while watching, a rather crass summary of what is in fact a smart, yet fiercely subjective portrait of a mental health issue. So, just to be clear, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off this is not. Alva is not bunking off in favour of hijinks and juvenile kicks, but rather to do some serious soul searching (one can assume there would be more similarities if John Hughes had made Cameron Frye’s Day Off instead). And while it may not be a Hughes flick, Stockholm My Love does play serious homage to particular films. Indeed, it fits within a very specific subgenre of cinema: The City Symphony. This is not accidental. Cousins, one of the most preeminent cinephiles working today, has been anything less than bashful in listing the films influences which include Man With a Movie Camera, Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis and Manhattan. There are times when playing up to such masterpieces puts one in danger of having tastes overreaching their ability. Thankfully though, Stockholm My Love makes enough of a dash for originality that it is ultimately saved from becoming a lazy or indulgent exercise in fanboying.
Following on from my previous point, I should point that what deters some to Cousins work, namely his highfalutin approach to cinema as a transcendental art form is something that has always drew me to his work, ever since his magnum opus The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Melding playful, experimental camerawork with heady stretches of spoken word poetry and pyschogeographic ramblings is a unique trait of Cousins, and it is what makes him a polarising and vital voice in modern cinema. This last part, the element of psychogeography is what struck me particularly. This is a film that has stayed with me since leaving the theatre and affected my relationship with my own adopted city, London. I had a similar experience after watching the underrated documentary from last year, In Pursuit of Silence, a film that forces you to address your relationship with sound, particularly in the concrete cacophony of cities like London. So too, Stockholm My Love, by musing over the universal architectural aspects of cites, can be enjoyed by city slickers the world over. Cousin’s showcases what makes Stockholm unique, but he is also adept at getting to the heart of the urban ennui felt by tourists and residents of cities the world over.
Dir: Mark Cousins
Prd: Anita Oxburgh, Mery Bel, Adam Dawtrey
Scr: Mark Cousins, Anita Oxburgh
Cast: Neneh Cherry, The City of Stockholm
DoP: Christopher Doyle, Mark Cousins
Music: Benjamin Page, Neneh Cherry
Country: Sweden, UK
Running Time: 88 minutes
Stockholm, My Love will be released in the UK in cinemas 16th June 2017