In the right hands, a clichéd premise can seem fresh. Check out Under The Sun, a Swedish film that can be summed up as "lonely, lumbering, Swedish farmer advertises for a housekeeper and in walks a stunning young woman who falls madly in love with him." It shouldn't work, but it does, and that's because English director Colin Nutley treats this simple yarn as if it were the greatest love story of all time. And it is, in a sense. Under The Sun is a retelling of the classic Beauty And The Beast tale, in which an unattractive man wins the heart of a beautiful woman. This plot remains the gold standard of movie love. After all, some of what we consider the most romantic films of all time fall into this category, including Cyrano De Bergerac, Casablanca and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Even comedies like Annie Hall and There's Something About Mary play with the premise.
It's the typical male fantasy reenacted on the big screen, one that drives me crazy. You don't see many male directors making films about unattractive women winning the hearts of boy toys. It's also one I fall for an awful lot of the time.
Rolf Lassgrd stars as Olof, the shy bachelor farmer, and Helena Bergström (Nutley's real-life wife) plays Ellen, the cosmopolitan beauty with a secret who struts into Olof's barnyard. Set in 50s rural Sweden, Under The Sun is a beautifully art-directed film. Shiny, brightly hued 50s objects -- a red convertible with fins, and Ellen's flouncy wardrobe (straight out of a Swedish Vogue layout) -- are set against the earthy tones of Olof's farm and dusty house. Ellen herself seems almost a paper-cutout doll, complete with outfits, inserted into the frame.
As the unlikely pair come together, it's clear that tragedy is lurking somewhere; it falls to Olof's jealous friend Erik (a wonderfully slimy Johan Widerberg) to set the boulder of disaster rolling. The secrets both lovers keep are, on the romantic entanglement scale, mendable. Yet anyone who's ever fallen in love knows that the smallest speck of information left unspoken can rip apart the most solid union. I became so invested in this story that by the finale I found myself leaning forward in my seat, aware of a slight knot in my stomach, wishing true love would prevail. Damn, sucked in again.
UNDER the sun directed and produced by Colin Nutley, written by Nutley in collaboration with Johanna Hald and David Neal, based on the short story The Little Farm, by H.E. Bates, with Rolf Lassgrd, Helena Bergström and Johan Widerberg. 118 minutes. A Continuities Distribution release. Opens Friday (July 26). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 88. Rating: NNN