Sweden. Day 13. Scenes from marriages.

Today I just made a short walk to Marum, near the sea, across frozen swamps, but yesterday we watched the Swedish film “Tillsammans” (Together, 2000) by Lukas Moodysson. It is about a sort of hippie community in the 1970s in Stockholm.

I had seen it years ago when it came out, but I didn’t remember much. In fact, I remembered it more as a comedy, and while it has some humour, it actually is a very sad film in many ways. In any case, it was interesting to re-watch it with Swedish people who could give a few more references that I had missed (about Swedish society, TV shows, songs, locations etc).

It is a film that talks about the difficulties of being together, but also about loneliness and the difficulties of being apart. At one point a character, an old man who grew up in the countryside decades ago, talks about his childhood when he lived with 18 people in the same small house, without even a bathroom (it was outside) and eating mainly only porridge at breakfast, lunch and dinner. “It was a shit life”, he says, “but at least we were together. It’s better to eat porridge together than pork cutlets alone.” (Swedish people, by the way, appear to be great fans of porridge).

It is also a film about the conflict between couples. The other day, as I mentioned, I went walking over a frozen lake with Håkan, a Swedish filmmaker, and we ended up being invited by a family across the lake to have a barbecue with them. “What a nice family”, I thought to myself. But later Håkan said, “Did you notice the conflict between them? And with the teenage daughters too? I think they will divorce as soon as they get back to Stockholm. I guess they invited us just because they couldn’t stand being together with each other. It was a cry for help!”

I admit I was puzzled. To be honest, I hadn’t noticed anything at all. They seemed like a quiet, happy couple to me.

In Latin culture, if there is a couple fighting, colourful insults will fly, and eventually dishes too. But in Scandinavian culture, they may appear to be talking about politics and society in general, or about different types of sausages, but they are really subtly throwing jabs at each other.

The couple we met were called Peter and Katarina, and that, coincidentally, is also the name of a couple in Bergman’s “Scene from a Marriage”, friends of the protagonists, who are constantly bickering. At one point, Peter quotes August Strindberg and says: “Is there anything more terrifying than a husband and wife who hate each other?”

In many Strindberg’s plays, married couples and families are depicted as having hellish relationships. Strindberg himself had three very turbulent marriages, and ended up divorcing all three wives. Ingmar Bergman, who was influenced by Strindberg and quotes him in that movie, was even worse: five failed marriages and several other unsuccessful relationships.

I don’t know if it is related to this difficulty of being together and the distrust of marriage as an institution, but apparently today many Swedish people never officially marry at all. They just live in cohabitation. Almost 60% of children in Sweden are born from unmarried parents, which would be considered “out of wedlock” not long ago.

In fact, in order to become a Swedish citizen, I was told that you don’t even need to officially marry a Swedish person: you just have to be living together with one. In order to prove it and to avoid scams, there is supposedly a separate interview with each partner, where they ask questions such as: “Which movie did you watch together last night?” or “What colour are the curtains in your bathroom?”

It seems too easy to be true, but… Swedish citizenship… I don’t know, maybe I will look a bit more into it…