PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Waltzing With a City in 'Stockholm, My Love'

Neneh Cherry (IMDB)

Spend an intimate hour and a half with a living, breathing city. Journeying Through the Soul of a City, and the Self


Stockholm, My Love

Director: Mark Cousins
Cast: Neneh Cherry, Stockholm
Distributor: BFI
UK Release date: 2017-06-17

Alva Achebe is not alone. She might appear to be alone, but she is not. Instead, she is engaged in an intimate waltz; a dance in time and space with a supporting character so known to her that, at times, it is difficult to discern where it ends and Alva begins.

But still, from an outsider’s perspective, it would appear that Alva is alone. There are other people in her world, but they seem to exist in spite of her rather than by her side.

Their references to her, if there are any at all, are dispassionate and impersonal. When she talks, it appears that she talks only to herself, or to the dead who either cannot or will not respond. The scars of mental trauma and anguish are apparent.

So, if Alva is not alone, who is the mysterious partner in this waltz? The sparse credits at the beginning of Mark Cousins’ arresting drama tell us immediately; starring alongside Neneh Cherry is the City of Stockholm itself.

Stockholm, My Love is an 85-minute journey through the soul of a city, and through the soul of one of its children, in this case respected architect Alva Achebe. Alva is due to give a talk today, for an invited audience of fellow architects, offering us a brief glimpse into a successful and accomplished life; a life which has, quite literally, been instrumental in the construction and evolution of a city so dear to Alva.

Alva’s journey is arcing, stylised, beautiful, and full of intimate encounters with seemingly insignificant components of the greater whole of Stockholm. We are presented with a spider strolling along a tree-lined path; with the locked door and tiny window of St Mark’s church in Bjornhagen; with the creaking of ships' hulls in the harbor. This is no Lonely Planet guide to the Swedish capital; this is an elegant dissection of the emotional and, in some senses, spiritual life of the city. This is the city, not as a physical location, but as an organism, as a sentient being, as a character in an ever unfolding drama.

This is familiar thematic territory for director and co-writer Mark Cousins. In 2015, I Am Belfast was released; a “city symphony” which involved a meditative exploration of Cousins’ own hometown in Ulster. However, while the sense of connecting intimately with a city or place – of developing a unique experience of somewhere already familiar to us – has been carried over into Stockholm, My Love, Cousins’ latest film represents his first foray into fiction.

There is a fictional narrative to Stockholm, My Love, albeit a Spartan, skeletal one. Today, Alva knows she must deliver her talk, but depression has taken its hold on her and she cannot face this task. Instead, she wanders, ruminating as she goes on a momentous incident in her recent past. This incident – which molded her own life and took away that of another – is the source of her depression, her pessimistic philosophy, and has led her to disconnect from life, from love, and from a city she once held close to her heart.

Ultimately, though, this is not a film driven by narrative. Those in search of dramatic tension, complex plotting, and endless twists and turns are advised to seek these elsewhere. Instead, Cousins’ has given us a work focussed on beauty and aesthetics, and on the depth of feeling and emotion which can be found in the smallest piece of a landscape. This is a film of detail – a film in which nothing goes unexamined, and layer upon layer of meaning and significance is built up and presented to the audience. The result is curiously satisfying.

This success, in part, is thanks to Neneh Cherry, who shares the lens with the dark mystery of Stockholm; her real life hometown.

Stockholm, My Love is the 52-year-old’s acting debut, and comes deep into an artistic career that has, up until now, been synonymous solely with the musical side of things. It would be incorrect to describe Cherry’s performance as an acting tour de force – and perhaps the R’n’B star would have found herself a little out of her depth navigating a more complex narrative structure – but within the frame of the film, the disconnected poignancy of her delivery works.

Of course, Mark Cousins’ directing cannot be ignored, and his unique visual style contributes to the complete feel of this charming work. This is the act filmmaking as composition; Cousins is bringing together a range of disparate elements, harmonising them, and arranging them into deliberately symphonic patterns. Alva speaks in English, Alva speaks in Swedish, Alva sings in English, Alva speaks with her deceased father, Alva projects into the lives of the passersby she sees, Alva fixates on discarded oranges in the street, on concepts as arbitrary as blame and culpability, Alva weighs up the physical form of her own happiness; each piece builds upon that which went before, growing and swelling like music as we follow Alva across her physical and psychological landscapes.

There are duff notes, however. The film’s power depends greatly upon the strength of its symbolism, and the resonance of the trail of visual hints, clues and cues it lays down for its audience. There are points within the narrative when, unfortunately, these visuals groan under the weight of the significance foisted upon them.

A tree branch, cut loose, teeters perilously above the grey seawater; alone and vulnerable. The frame lingers on forlorn, discarded objects in the street; isolated and forgotten like our heroine herself. Alva pauses and stands with one foot on either side of a fissure in a bridge, as the camera repeatedly probes into the depths; a damaged, fractured society, and a woman in danger of slipping through the cracks.

Great points, sure, but each could have been conveyed with a little more subtlety.

On the whole, though, both Cousins and Cherry can chalk Stockholm, My Love up as a triumph. I share their love of the Swedish capital – although perhaps not their profound emotional connection with it – and gaining this intimate perspective was fascinating. In a broader sense, Cousins’ work explores a more meaningful and personal engagement with the physicality of place, which, in a time so characterised by jingoism and nationalistic bombast, is undoubtedly a positive step.

The city; so often a figure of ugliness or something deemed worth escaping from, is reimagined in Stockholm, My Love. It is beautiful – not romanticised as a backdrop or as a piece of stage scenery – but instead as something organic, as something growing and breathing and staining us indelibly with its influence. Perhaps we should spend more time appreciating our own cities in this way; who knows what we might find?

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.