Watching Mark Cousins latest film Stockholm My Love I totally bought into Niheh Cherry essentially playing herself. Knowing that Cherry had a Swedish mother it felt totally feasible that the film was about her reflecting on her Stockholm experience. In the film she is meant to be giving a lecture on architecture in the city, but feels like she can’t go through with it, spends time reflecting on thoughts about her African father and of a tragic fatal accident that involved her hitting an old man while she is driving.
Being well versed with Cousin’s typical style of art-house essays exploring a city’s sights and sounds and given Cherry’s creative nature I was reasonably confident the words were probably Cherry’s but in Cousins inimitable style. But checking out the credits as they rolled it seemed to suggest that the words were actually Cousins. I would need to investigate further.
As it turns out Cherry was actually just a character in a fictional drama. Given that this was Cherry’s feature film acting debut you have to give her a huge amount of kudos for her performance. Her assured performance and delivery made the film feel very personal, heartfelt and that she was actually acting out in a documentary style, laying bare her actual life on camera. Likewise Cousins shows that he has more to his repertoire than elegant and engaging city essays. Of course there are his trademark ‘seeing’ and exploring of cities from unique, quirky and personal perspectives but this time round there is an actual imagined living character. This is in contrast to using an older lady to personify a city such as in his film I Am Belfast who has a conversation with herself – essentially a city talking to itself.
It transpires that Cousins has visited Stockholm on many occasions since the 1980s. He has described the city as a
‘northern jewel, an archipelago town, a place that is dark all winter, but then light comes and it’s like movie curtains open’.
Cousins picks out some of his favourite places in Stockholm to frame the narrative which include lakes and canals, famous landmarks such as Gamala Stan (the old town), the iconic Grona Lund amusement park along with more hidden delights such as St Mark’s Church in Bjorkhagen, the Resurrection chapel at the Woodlands Cemetery (a UNESCO world heritage site, designed by Gunnar Asplund and Lewerentz) the skate park under the Vasterbron bridge, the pioneering post-war suburb of Vallingby and the newly notorious Rinkeby ghetto.
The film portrays Stockholm as a very calm and serene place a bit Zen like. Of course Sweden has had problems with far right extremism like many other countries but it has also shown a commitment to social equality and cohesion. Cherry’s character visits just an average looking suburban street in the city where a former Swedish Prime Minister used to live when in his leading government position. Later she visits a housing estate which is largely occupied by immigrants a place she says that people look out for each other. There is also part of the film that touches on the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. In power Palme was a towering social reformer introducing wide ranging domestic policies that helped largely shape Sweden into the nation it is today.
Given her performance in Stockholm My Love Cherry has shown that she is a pretty decent actress in the making and I would love to see in her something again. I would also love to see Cousins further explore his flair for a dramatic narrative, maybe a thriller set in Berlin, but failing that would settle for just his brand of likeable visual odes to cities he adores.
Stockholm My Love will be UK cinemas and available on BFI player 16 June 2017