1930’s Swedish Cinema

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The New Society

A new Sweden was born during the 1930´s when the aim of progress of the Social Democratic party started to took place. Their main goal was to change the social structure of the swedish society, setting the work class as the main class. The actual change was the everybody´s life style, values and ideology. The concept of the “Folkhemmet” –the people´s home1– was established, indicating the family as the center of the society and the only way to be socially integrated.

This means that the government started to help the every person to own a house, where they can establish a family and look after their children. But they had to face two prominent challenges in this point. On one hand ,they were in a need to construct more buildings, but very practical and functional houses. Healthy, useful and squared buildings with big windows and big rooms were constructed in a simple and practical way following the main ideals of Functionalism. On the other hand, the other challenge was to find a solution for the low birth rates, and the ideal way to solve it was to build a safe, healthy environment for the family and their children. Education was thus a good card to change the society and to create a new way of thinking among the Swedes, and through it it was easy to promote for sexual education in order to increase procreation.

The ideal of family also associated with the car, as well as the new style of building, and both were symbol of modernity. Stockholm 1930´s exhibition was a clue point for the development of all this “modern” concepts.

During this period, Sweden also fight to became a liberal society, specially beside feminist movement and campaigns defending women´s rights and gender equality. Many prominent names appeared in the 1930s for instance Alva Myrdal as one of the most initial activist women defenders, she spread the ideas of the perfect, equal Swedish society. The pension system was established, and the working sector approached a better treatment from the government including their need of a vacation and a monthly salary.

Keeping the body healthy, and clean was also very important in order to avoid diseases and have the strength for the growing society. Physical training to every age group was offered and the idea of nudity was not a tabu anymore.

All this statements were, thus, the base of the Social Democrats ideology and aim of implantation.

Cinema and Social Democracy

Beside all other types of propaganda, one of the tools that helped Social Democrats to expand their idea of society was throw cinema. “The swedish people seemed to never tire of hearing their language spoken on the silver screen by their beloved actors” 2 which means that national cinema was still very appreciated inside the country even thought its international reputation seemed to decrease with the arrival of sound and because of obvious language boundaries. So an increasingly number of movies were depicting swedish society at the same time that were trying to redefine its characteristics.

Moving images were, thus, a great device to catch people´s attention (because of its natural appeal) and so an ideal way of including indirect messages: the rejection was not an option. People chosen voluntarily to go to the cinema and to open their minds in front of the screen and took their favorite actors as referents, not only in the sense of their ideal aspect but also in their way of life. And specially the latter was the one that helped the Social Democrats to spread all the issues pointed above.

With all that said, we can understand why we found in the 1930´s mostly comedies, which was the easiest genre to get the attention of the hole society. Most of them took place insi the the houses and its plots involved the family in one way or another. Then the family-role and aspirations of the new society where clearly depicted by well known characters such as Gösta Ekman or Ingrid Bergman. And throw them (and of course throw all the other actors and actresses in the period) we can easily appreciate how their stories tend to morally defend the family as the only way of reaching happiness or, at least, stability. All the moral conflicts that the characters had to face in the screen were actually, in one sense or another, all the ideas that Social Democrats wanted to label as unacceptable for the proper development of the new society. And, of course, all the endings tended to bring the characters to the “right path” according to Democrats’ ideology or, otherwise, they are cruelty showed as losers.

I found interesting to note here again the concept of “Folkhemmet”, as it´s also represented in the movies specially during the 1930´s. It was throw the family portraits represented in films and the life style that the audience could see inside the houses of the characters that the idea of the new social organization was implanted.


One can find all this theoretical lines of reasoning well represented or exemplified in the film Intermezzo (Gustaf Molander,1936). I want to make it clear before analyzing the film that the following words doesn´t pretend in any case to be facts but only sort of interpretations of it. This means, thus, that other kind of analysis can be made and would be, of course, also compatible with this reasoning.

As I was suggesting before, there is a lot of both social and political messages in Intermezzo that were promoting Social Democrats’ ideology and that are clearly related with the first part of this article, “The new society”.

Referring to the liberalization of woman, they appear represented on the screen as they must have aspirations beyond the housework and taking care of the children, such as being interested in music. In this sense, the fact that the character of Anita played by a young Ingrid Bergman shows how a woman can also be a great pianist and be admired by other male virtuoso musicians. Maybe this detail seems not relevant in a current context, but I’m sure it was during the 1930´s.

Another characteristic that is associated with the women of the film is that they are not submissive to their husbands anymore, as we can see Magrit complaining to her husband about his absence at home, or even Anita being advised of the danger of leaving her career to follow Holger´s tour. So we can see here the aim of portraiting a woman with personality, totally capable to argue with his husband and to fight for its own independence and for genre equality. Is a woman that leads the family and works hard to protect its integrity, which is, again, one of the main bases of the society that is being implanted3 by the Democrats.

The value of discipline is also present in the way that Brandt family is growing up their children. The kids behave almost perfectly and speak as they are adults, underlaying the importance of a good education. Ann-Marie is studding hard her piano lessons and improving quick, being this

well-mannered little girl just a clear example of how discipline is present in the family.

It is also interesting the way the movie is portraying art practices in terms of the relationship between the music (art) and musician (artist). In this sense, the movie keeps insisting in the importance of the authenticity of the artists with messages of being aware in order not to let them go by the fame. In short, it is actually advising how easy is to fall in the banality when you became a known artist. So even if the music is not the main topic of the movie, it´s something that is always present as a subtext, and the values of authenticity and integrity are in one way or another indirectly promoted.

And continuing with the issue of music it is also notable how present is in the Swedish society. Maybe it´s more difficult to realize from a national eye, but throw my foreign point of view I can say that music is definitely more appreciated and practiced than in other cultures such as spanish or italian to give a couple of examples. So in this sense, one can say that music and art in general is something that defines Swedish society and that was very closed to it already during the 1930´s, otherwise a film like Intermezzo would have never been made.

Another value that one can extract from the film is the divulgation of the courage instead of the weakness in the character of the personas. For the proper development of the society it´s important that every individual has strength and courage, so they can actively intervene in its change and improvement. According to this statement, both attributes are present in one way or another in most of the characters of the film, even when they take wrong decisions. As the audience can feel deeply identified with the main characters and they can represent an ideal personality for the public, this qualities mentioned are indirectly sent to all the spectators. Thus, if maybe it´s too pretentious to say that movies in the 1930´s were making swedish society stronger, one can surely say that at least they were helping in one sense or another to promote a stereotype of strong personality. Of course it´s impossible to measure how much the films were influential at the time to start building what Swedish society currently is , but facts can say that from then since now Swedes had really got most of their goal better than other societies did at least in the context of Europe.

Finally, I just want to try to interpret the ending of the film, which it´s actually quite evident and it´s maybe one of the clearest examples of how the film it´s representing the Social Democrats ideology. After leaving his wife and kids and running away with her lover Anita, Professor Holger Brandt eventually realizes that he is in real love with her ex-wife and decides to come back with her. This apparently final plot twist, it’s actually what defines the main moral message of the film, which is the importance of the family to be included in a society and, in fact, to reach happiness. The movie is, thus, blaming unfaithfulness and clearly defending the marriage. So it couldn´t be more clear how the movie is referring here again to the concept of “folkhemmet” that I’m defining along this essay and that is the “[…] backbone of a healthy, working society”.4


The case of Intermezzo is just an example of how films were used as a tool to help the development of the “new” Sweden during the 1930´s –and in fact, during the whole history of cinema– but of course is not the only one. Moving images have been used since the very best of their appearance of a way of telling stories with a deeper emotional implication and, thus, with more possibilities of reaching audience attention and transmitting indirect messages. Throw our case of analysis we have proved that movies can contain a lot of political messages of propaganda, what afterwards was actually the base of the party´s campaigns with the appearance of the TV. So the capacity of the audiovisual material to attempt directly to the unconscious and to create the feeling of belonging to a certain community of values it´s been shown as an evidence, and also its extensive capacity of containing and transmitting cultural content.

The Swedish cinema of the 30´s has been criticized more than admired (specially when being compared with the gold era of the silent cinema), partly due to its familiar character and excessive superficiality. However, we can still find films like the one we have been analyzing, Intermezzo, that maybe because its out-standing from the more common comedies in the period, it’s still very good quality at least from my point of view.

But after this hard-critized Swedish comedies from the 30´s, Swedish national cinema has taken special care of its cultural content and quality has been one of its main goals. The period of the 30’s It actually ended with an appointment in 1941 “of a state inquiry, whose task it was to formulate a proposal for a system that would support the production of culturally valuable film”5. So maybe we have to thank this era know as “poor quality” for raising its posterior Swedish national cinema, which, in fact, has been very related to all the changes that Sweden has experienced from then since today.

Marc Castañé Muntané

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1 WALLENBERG, Louise. “Straight Heroes with Queer Inclinations: Male Film Stars in the Swedish 1930s” in Queering representations of Straightness, edited by Sean Griffiths, 71-88. New York; SUNY Press, 2009 (p.75).

2SOYLA, Tytti; SÖDERBERGH WIDDING, Astrid; IVERSEN, Gunnar. Nordic National Cinemas. London and New York: Routledge, 1998 (p. 169).

3Let´s note here again the concept of “folkhemmet” developed in the first part of the article but clearly portrayed in Intermezzo.

4 WALLENBERG, Louise (p.75).

5SOILA, Titty. (p. 176)

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