Still from I am Curious (Yellow)
In any given era, we think we are modern. We never are. Perhaps that is the most striking thing about I am Curious (Yellow) 40 years after it’s 1967 release.
Few films encapsulate “Social Change and Sexuality in Swedish Cinema” better. When released, the movie became infamous for its sex scenes. These include main characters Lena Nyman and Börje Ahlstedt doing it in front of the royal castle one early summer’s dawn, as a pimply guard watches from his post. Today that is hardly the most striking thing about this film, nor does it seem to be the main point of the movie. (Although sexual liberation certainly is one of the topics explored.)
The film opens with Soviet poet Yevgeniy Yevtushenko reading to radical students in Stockholm. There are chants of “further to the left” and “go Clarté” (Clarté was a far leftist student organization.) This is a snapshot of Sweden at a time where much seemed radically new, yet existed alongside an older Sweden, specifically an older Stockholm that has all but vanished today. Shabby apartments and working people are all but gone from the inner city, as are cheap beer halls where men whiled away their lunch breaks.
Cute and slightly plump theater student Lena Nyman plays some version of herself. She is the main character in a film about Sweden, being made by Vilgot Sjöman, who is also the director of this movie. He films her as she pesters passers by on topics such as, “Is Sweden a class society?” “Don’t you think it is unfair that those with less talent end up making less money doing less interesting jobs?” (now there’s a question nobody would ask in America) and, “Do you believe in non-violence?”
In retrospect these concerns seem almost quaint. The hobbies of a small, earnest and navel-gazing country, very much on the periphery of world affairs. It is almost shocking to see an interview with Martin Luther King in the midst of this. A reminder that the American civil rights struggle and its aftermath is exactly contemporary with these fresh-faced Swedish art students.
Olof Palme, the minister of transportation and only 39 years old at the time also gets the interview treatment. He patiently and intelligently answers the various questions above. I am born in 1980 and he was the first politician I recognized, I remember his murder in 1986. I sat on my father’s shoulders, among thousands of others, watching as his coffin was paraded through Stockholm, flanked by red flags. A fitting goodbye to an era perhaps.
The main concern in I am Curious (Yellow) is that Social Democracy has not effected enough change in Sweden. That society is not equal enough, that the old Social Democrats who built the welfare state, marched for unionization and fought Franco in Spain are complacent; that they have become the establishment. Sjöman and his contemporaries may have thought they were halfway through a journey to a better world. Little did they know they were living at the pinnacle of the Social Democratic dream in Sweden.