Sebbe, by Babak Najafi, is another movie on the edges of Swedish society. The title character, Sebbe, a 15-year-old boy, is mercilessly bullied at school. At home he is the only outlet for his hard-luck mother’s impotent anger.
That is not to say that there aren’t tender moments. The love between the mother and Sebbe is also the central theme in the movie.
The film is set in the concrete suburbs that were built around large Swedish cities in the 1960s. They were designed with lofty ideals of good living for the masses, social change and a new urban landscape. In practice they are a less than comfortable environment for humans. The movie is full of tight shots that leave little or no sky and horizon, creating a feeling of claustrophobia. The buildings seem to almost crush the small, often lone, character on screen.
In Sebbe’s case the harshness of his surroundings is compounded by the fact that he is grindingly poor. Far poorer than his neighbors. His mother, who makes a living distributing newspapers at night can’t even afford to buy him a birthday present. As Najafi says, poverty can have different consequences in a rich country than in a poor country. Sebbe and his mother don’t starve and they have a roof over their heads, yet without money they are social outcasts.
At the Q&A after the screening, an American woman in the audience said Sebbe showed a Sweden she’d never seen, not even in Sweden. Najafi seemed pleased; part of his aim is to make poverty visible. Though this isn’t a world shown in tourist brochures, Sebbe and his mother are familiar to many Swedes, as is the environment they live in, which a Swedish woman in the audience attested to.