1001 Films review. Swedish films are a bit in at the moment, aren’t they? What with Stieg Larsson adaptions and As It Is In Heaven, more people are looking at this country’s cinema.

Well, I’ve jumped back in time to 1921 to watch one of the classics of Swedish cinema – The Phantom Carriage. The carriage of the title is the carriage that collects souls when someone dies. If you have the misfortune to die at the stroke of midnight on New Years’ Eve, you get to bet the coachman for the next year. (Ironically, I didn’t realise about this New Years twist when I sat down to watch this on 31 December 2010…)

However, this is more of a device to give us a Scrooge-like tale of a man called David Holm (played by director Victor Sjöström) and how his encounter with the coach changes his life. Basically, this is like a darker version of A Christmas Carol and will feel familiar.

Already, this early in the history of film, you can tell the difference between American and European filmmaking. DW Griffiths’ films were melodramatic blockbusters – large in scale with breathtaking finales. By contrast, this story is slow, deliberate and intimate. There are some clever special effects (well, clever for 1921 – they’re not going to really bowl over anyone who’s been watching films post-Jurassic Park). And the grittiness of the story is quite effective (especially combined with the soundtrack on the version I watched – a constant grinding never-tonal industrial sound from a group called KTL).

In the end, I think it’s too slow to stand up as a movie today, but for those interested in early film and the developing genres that were springing up, this is well worth a look.

3 out of 5.

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