Another important Swedish director of the 1960s was Mai Zetterling. After an extensive career as an actress, Zetterling made her first short film, Wargame (1962) (not to be confused with Peter Watkins’s 1965 film The War Game), which won a prize at the Venice Film Festival. The film is a brief but effective antiwar parable, as two young boys fight over a toy pistol on the roof of a skyscraper. Älskande par Loving (Couples, 1964), in which three pregnant women remember, through flashbacks, their past love affairs, and Nattlek (Night Games, 1966), a dark and brooding film about human sexuality, brought her international recognition as a practitioner of personal cinema. In 1968, Zetterling directed Flickorna (The Girls), a feminist exploration of three actresses in a production of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata who become obsessed with the theme of women’s oppression off the stage.
Two additional Swedish filmmakers made their mark in the 1960s, Bo Widerberg and Vilgot Sjöman. Widerberg’s long career as a director was highlighted by the international success of his tragic nineteenth-century love story, Elvira Madigan (1967), in which two young lovers, army officer Lieutenant Sixten Sparre (Thommy Berggren) and Hedvig Jensen (Pia Degermark), a famous tightrope walker who performs professionally under the name Elvira Madigan, abandon their former lives to run away together. Their romantic idyll starts out in the beauty of full summer, but as the leaves turn Sixten realizes that he must make a choice between life on the run with Elvira or returning to his wife and children. But a return home is impossible: as a deserter from the armed forces, Sixten is subject to court-martial. At length, the two run out of money and Sixten is reduced to stealing food to live. Realizing that their situation is desperate, the couple takes a drastic step in the film’s shocking conclusion. Gorgeously photographed by Jörgen Pers-son in the bucolic Swedish countryside and perfectly matched with music of Mozart, Elvira Madigan was a surprise international hit.
Vilgot Sjöman is a different case altogether. He was initially a writer; one of his novels was filmed by Swedish director Gustaf Molander as Trots (Defiance) in 1952. In 1956, Sjöman attended UCLA’s film school on a scholarship. Returning to Sweden, he served as an assistant to Ingmar Bergman on Winter Light in 1963 and then began making feature films with Älskarinnan (The Mistress, 1962) and the taboo-breaking 491 (1964), whose title refers to the number of times Christ told his disciples to forgive those who transgressed against them, “seven times seventy,” or 490 times. The 491st sin, however, is another matter. 491 deals with a social worker, Krister (Lars Lind), who is forced to supervise a group of worthless, violent youthful offenders. Despite all efforts, the young men continually violate the rules of society, with disastrous results. Jag är nyfiken—en film i gult (I Am Curious [Yellow], 1967) ignited an international debate when it became the first film to graphically depict sexual intercourse as part of a fictional narrative. It was initially banned in both Sweden and the United States, but after a lengthy court battle it was released theatrically, and led to the explicit presentation of sex in American cinema.