In the year 1955, the famous French philosopher Michel Foucault decided to leave Paris and move to Sweden. He was gay and he'd had enough of French homophobia and was under the impression that Sweden was a sexually liberated country. He thought he could meet and enjoy men in the open and in peace. He got an easy job at the French Institute at Uppsala. He bought a fast car. He was ready to rock and roll. But to his horror, he found the Swedes to be rather stoic and stiff and just no fun. His fast car stood out.
It was only a matter of time before he began longing to return to Paris (being in the closet there was better than being in the cold in Uppsala). Years after he left the Scandinavian country and its long winter nights, he was still bitter about the experience. He stated in Swedish literary magazine Bonniers Litterära Magasin: "It is perhaps the mutism of the Swedes, their silence and their habit of talking with elliptical sobriety, which prompted me to start speaking and develop this endless chatter that I believe can only irritate a Swede."
But why did the philosopher think the Swedes were more fun-loving than the French? Where did this impression come from? My bet is he watched the Ingmar Bergman film Summer with Monika, the same film that plays on January 11 at Seattle Art Museum, opening the two-month-long series called Winter Light: The Films of Ingmar Bergman. Released in 1953, Summer with Monika shocked audiences around the world with the raw and sometimes undressed sex appeal of its main character, Monika (Harriet Andersson). Describing the story of Summer with Monika is a great waste of time. All that needs to be said is it's about sunlight, sun-dazzled water, curves, exposed shoulders, full lips, and the flesh of a young and very liberated woman.
Anyone who saw this film in the 1950s, and wanted freedom from oppressive middle-class values, would have seriously considered moving to Sweden if given the opportunity. Foucault was given such an opportunity and hoped to pick up male Monikas in his Jaguar. But instead he encountered people like the grim family that inhabits a remote and cold island in Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly (which screens at SAM on March 1). If the French philosopher had watched the stark and minimal Through a Glass Darkly, he might have admired it as a work of art (it is a great film), but he most certainly would have decided to stay in Paris.
Other films in the series include Smiles of a Summer Night (January 18), The Seventh Seal (January 25), Wild Strawberries (February 1), The Magician (February 8), The Virgin Spring (February 22), and Persona (March 15).