Synopsis: Seized by customs upon entry to the United States, subject of a heated Supreme Court battle, banned in cities around the world, Vilgot Sjöman’s I Am Curious—Yellow is one of the most controversial films of all time. This landmark document has been declared both obscene and revolutionary.
It tells the story of Lena (Lena Nyman), a searching and rebellious young woman, and her personal quest to understand the social and political conditions in 1960s Sweden, as well as her bold exploration of her own sexual identity. I Am Curious—Yellow is a subversive mix of dramatic and documentary techniques that attacks capitalist injustices and frankly addressing the politics of sexuality.
Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult 6.5
eyelights: its political discourse. its sexy bits. its quirky bits. its unusual structure
eyesores: its bland plot. its indulgent length. its unusual structure.
‘Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult’ is a Swedish film that was the opening salvo in the failed Swedish New Wave movement and a turning point in changing sexual mores. Released in 1967, as the first part of a two-film sequence, it was reviled by critics though it fascinated the public, being the first sexually-explicit film to play in standard cinemas in some regions. It was one of the highest grossing films in the United States in 1969.
The picture, which is a combination of interview footage, pseudo-documentary, and fiction, shows Lena, an aspiring actress, interviewing common Swedes about their political beliefs for her lover, director Vilgot Sjöman. Politically active, Lena goes to protests at various embassies, makes bold statements to audiences via hand-written posters and meets with populist figures such a future Prime Minister Olof Palme and Martin Luther King Jr.
Yes, the real Martin Luther King.
It’s little surprises like this one that make of ‘Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult’ a minor treat. Buried in its many layers of political discourse are moments like those as well as curious choices in editing (ex: the opening introduction to our leads), interludes (ex: a contest to guess what’s in Lena’s bag), a constant blurring of fact and fiction (ex: the fantasy sequence with Sweden’s last monarch) or the filmmakers selling their film in overdub.
But it all comes crashing down to Earth with the core plot, which finds Lena being fascinated with Börje, her co-star, and taunting Vilgot to set up a love-making scene with him in their film. Naturally, they end up having a love affair, she discovers that he already has a partner and child, gets upset, leaves town, he tracks her down, they make up, break up, make up again, and everything ends as it started, but with Börje in Vilgot’s stead.
Yeah… it’s not especially original or interesting, no matter how watchable Lena is and how naughty some of her encounters with Börje are. I was really stunned to see just how explicit the picture is given the era, showing us full frontal nudity of both actors, a few compromising positions and even oral-genital contact from both participants. You’d think that it would at least titillate, but it’s somewhat buried in politics and tedium.
Frankly, I’m not a huge fan ‘Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult’. Though I love its quirky mish-mash of genres and appreciate the interviews because they illustrate how Sweden was on the cusp of massive societal change at the time, I find it unbearably long; though the first hour passes by with relative ease, the picture overstays its welcome – afterwards its much of the same but with a greater focus on the unfolding of its trite plot.
The performances at least were natural and believable; it became almost impossible to tell the difference between performance and real life. In fact, I frequently wondered if any of the interview footage was staged or if it was all real; it all blended so seamlessly. Even the sex scenes appeared uncontrived, realistic; I felt like I was watching a couple of true-life lovers enjoying bliss together, with each other’s bodies, warts and all.
But it’s not enough for me to truly relish ‘Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult’. Perhaps if I had a better understanding of Swedish culture, I could properly grasp just how significant this motion picture is. And then maybe I’d derive a bit more enjoyment out of it. As it stands, however, it feels like an overstuffed 120 minutes that could have benefited from some judicial editing. To think that this was supposed to be over three hours long!
…which is why they released a companion film two years later.
God give me strength!
Date of viewing: December 18, 2016