Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Anita: Swedish Nymphet

Everyone has to start somewhere. And for Stellan Skarsgård – erstwhile star of Good Will Hunting and The Avengers – that start came in 1970s Scandinavia. One of his earliest roles was in Anita: Swedish Nymphet, the supposedly true story of a 17-year-old sex addict. Does the film give us a hint of the talents Skarsgård possessed, or is it a film he’d gladly erase from his CV?

Anita (Christina Lindberg) is a precocious 16-year-old with just one thing on her mind: sex. Totally consumed by her desires, Anita’s relationships with those around her are falling apart, her education is in ruins and she repeatedly places herself in dangerous situations. She is continually and ruthlessly used by predatory men – a situation she is not altogether unhappy with.

When Erik (Skarsgård), a psychology student, literally stumbles into Anita’s life, they form a fledgling relationship. She appreciates the gentle support he offers, he sees himself as the caring influence she so badly needs – and spies an opportunity to test his academic skills on her. As she opens up to Erik, she confesses some of the shocking and sordid affairs she’s been involved in – and these are played out in flashback.

When Anita moves into the student commune where Erik lives, the pair come closer to uncovering the real reasons for her nymphomania. Will her journey of self-discovery lead to happiness?

Anita: Swedish Nymphet is an ugly film. Presumably transferring the film stock to digital has caused some light loss. From the very outset, the film is extremely dark and some scenes are obscured entirely by blackness. Add to that a series of deeply unattractive characters clad in brown and grey clothing and the movie is hardly a visual treat.

Thankfully, the titular character is anything but ugly. Christina Lindberg is a beautiful woman – and she needs to be given how much of the movie’s running time is devoted to focusing on her naked body. There are numerous scenes of her disrobing, dancing and wiggling naked across the screen. Her womanly curves are at odds with her sweet, childlike face in a way which is slightly disconcerting.

Not as disconcerting, however, as the film’s sexual content. There’s absolutely nothing explicit here – just boobs, bums and vast quantities of pubic hair – but the sex scenes still make for uncomfortable viewing. Anita takes no pleasure from her trysts. They are filmed joylessly and almost wordlessly, and although the ‘action’ is usually obscured from view, it’s clear that what goes unseen is devoid of feeling – save for the aftermath in which Anita is usually seen weeping or staring lifelessly into space.

These episodes are linked by Anita’s scenes with Erik. Told as flashbacks, they illustrate the depth of her despair as Erik attempts to make sense of her condition. His cod-psychology, however, never rings true. Any layman could devise such simplistic theories and it’s difficult to take the character seriously. There’s not a lot more Skarsgård could do with the part, but it’s hard not to draw unfavourable comparisons with his performance as Prof. Gerald Lambeau in Good Will Hunting.

Quite how much of Anita: Swedish Nymphet is genuinely based on a true story is questionable. There are certainly some scenes which would be deeply disturbing were they true. One such set-piece occurs when Anita is giving a performance for her father’s work colleagues. With her mother accompanying her at the piano, she sings for the group of men only to end up stripping and performing naked for the leering men as her parents look on. It might be a strong hint as to where her troubled mindset originated – but the film never explores this deeply enough.

Instead, the diagnosis for her problem is finally arrived at by Erik. There’s more than a hint of Linda Lovelace’s Deepthroat about the diagnosis – and Anita sets out to solve the problem with relish. It makes for a rather absurd final act full of twists and about turns which seem like a box-ticking exercise rather than an attempt to tell any kind of story. You can almost imagine the money men’s cries: “No lesbianism yet? What do you mean there are no scenes in a strip club? Rectify this immediately! And get her a dildo!”

Anita: Swedish Nymphet is a failure on all fronts. It’s neither salacious nor camp enough to be entertaining, not gritty or hard-hitting enough to move the audience, nor detailed enough to be a convincing character study. Instead, it’s a peculiar period piece from a less permissive era: where once it would have shocked, now it’s just shocking. Unless you have a predilection for moustaches and bare bottoms, this is one to avoid.

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