Den Enfaldige Mördaren

[The Simple-Minded Murderer]

Sweden, 1982, 108 min.

director.gif (905 bytes)Hans Alfredson

CAST

Stellan Skarsgård - Sven
Maria Johannson - Anna

Hans Alfredson - Höglund
Per Myrberg - Andersson
Lena-Pia Bernhardsson - Mrs. Andersson
Nils Ahlrot - Månsson
Lars Amble - Bengt
Carl-Åke Eriksson - Wallin
Cecilia Walton - Vera
Wallis Grahn - Mrs. Höglund
Else-Marie Brandt - Sven's mother

BASED ON THE BOOK

 "En ond man" by Hans Alfredson

THEATRE RELEASE

12 February 1982 [Sweden]

ACCOLADES

Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actor (Stellan)
Berlin International Film Festival
February 1982

Guldbagge for Best Film, Best Director,
and Best Actor (Stellan)

 


SYNOPSIS

Set in Sweden during what appears to be the late 1930s, The Simple-Minded Murderer relates the events that led to Höglund's murder by the farmhand whom he had mistreated for years. This farmhand named Sven has a cleft palate. Because of his physical deformity, his speech impediment and his difficulty socializing with others, Sven is deemed a half-wit and called the Idiot by local residents. When Sven's mother dies, he is forced to move to Höglund's farm where he works without pay for food and shelter.

Sven witnesses Höglund beating his chauffeur, berating his wife and taking a tenant's last 300 kroner, which Höglund burns in front of the man on Christmas Eve. When Sven can no longer tolerate his existence under Höglund, he runs away to the Anderssons, successful tenant farmers who lease their land from Hoglund.

The Anderssons welcome him as a member of the family and don't discourage his growing affection for their crippled daughter, Anna. Furious at their charity, Höglund attempts to impoverish the Anderssons and destroy Sven. What Höglund and the Andersson's don't know is that Sven, a devout Christian, believes he has been visited by three angels. In Sven's dreams, the seraphim urge him to take action and join them in heaven.

Stellan:  "Hasse called and said that he wanted to see me. We met in a cafe right across the backstage entrance of Dramaten [most famous theatre in Sweden]. He wanted me to read the script right there while he was sitting and watching me - and that was quite a strange situation of course. (laugh) But I read it and thought it was totally fantastic. It surely is a very rewarding role. You can circle around as much as possible. I could do whatever. And Hasse let me do whatever indeed."
 

How did you prepare for this role?

"Most of my preparation was to find a body language for him. A physical attitude that expressed a childlike surprise at the world around him. I used to practice it in the subway on my way to the theatre where I worked, and sometimes got quite strange reactions from the other passengers. His speech took some work to figure out as well.... And his looks..."

Why the disheveled hair and short trousers?

"The disheveled hair comes from not combing it and lack of vanity, the short trousers because he got them from somebody else and to emphasize his length. He lives under very hard conditions in a barn with the animals so he is dirty. When his looks were decided, a lot of people asked why I had to make him so ugly. They said he would be unwatchable and the audience would dislike him. But the very point of the film is to get the audience to like him for his goodness and inner qualities and not judge him by his way of talking and his rather filthy appearance like most of the people in the film do."

Did you receive much direction from Hasse or were you able to create Sven on your own?

"A big part of the character was of course in Hasse’s script, but how I did him was my own creation. But we made a deal early on that 'Overacting Doesn’t Exist'."

What was the length of the shoot?

"About two and a half months."

Any special memory or funny story?

"Oh I’m so bad at things like that... Eh... Maybe when I ran over a 100,000 dollar camera with the antique two-ton car that I drive in the film......"

PRAISE FOR THE FILM AND STELLAN:

"A young Stellan Skarsgård gives a remarkable performance in this gripping film from author/director Hans Alfredson."   ...San Francisco Film Society

"In The Simple-Minded Murderer, writer-director Hans Alfredson stacks the deck, but humanely, and with a gorgeous pictorial sense... handsome, compassionate and involving."    ...Boston Globe

"First of all, think more in terms of Kasper Hauser intersecting with a Wagner opera. Secondly, here's a chance to see one of the stars of Breaking the Waves and Good Will Hunting, the accomplished actor Stellan Skarsgård, in one of his formative roles... Hans Alfredson’s powerful rural parable is filled with a sense of primitive, spiritual energy as it moves between its rural landscape and the rich colors of bold operatic sequences which define the inner landscape of Sven, a man-child whose victimization leads to tragedy."  ...Northwest Film Center

"Skarsgård's acting is made effective not by subtle mannerisms or high-precision repetition but by creating a full natural persona, complete with appropriate visual appearance and body movement. It's when Sven lumbers out of Hoglund's office, heaving and panting after exacting his revenge, that the full import of Skarsgård's remarkable performance becomes most apparent."   ...MIT

"An unusual mixture of fantasy, drama and tragedy, typically Scandinavian in atmosphere, but by no means bleak. Jorgen Persson's magisterial photography catches the harsh beauty of Sweden's winter landscape while director Hans Alfredson (better known for his comedies) skilfully evokes the oppressive nature of master-servant relationships of Sweden in the Thirties. Alfredson also plays the almost Dickensian villain who foils the 'simple-minded' hero's attempts to bring happiness into his life at every turn. Stellan Skarsgård is touchingly sincere in the title role."   ...Sky.com

"One of the most powerful works of Swedish movie making in the last 20 years. Sven (Stellan Skarsgård in his breakthrough role) plays a simple man who is adopted by a cruel landlord. Set in the '30s, this film offers stellar performances by the cast, beautiful cinematography and flawless editing. A must see!"  ...Swedish viewer

"This is indeed Stellan Skarsgård's tour de force, playing Sven the fool. Playing a mentally disabled person is a challenge but Skarsgård manages it with grace like Leonardo di Caprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape... The award for Best Swedish movie of the year was quite well deserved."  ...Swedish viewer

"Den enfaldige mördaren is without a doubt one of the best Swedish films ever made. It's a beautiful film, as well as a harrowing experience to watch. Stellan Skarsgård is magnificent in the role of Sven... This is truly a great accomplishment."   ...Swedish viewer

"The directing (by Hasse Alfredson) and the cinematography (by Rolf Lindström and Jörgen Persson) are excellent... The actors make this movie a masterpiece. Maria Johansson is brilliant as the lame girl. But the best performance of them all is made by Stellan Skarsgård as Sven."   ...Swedish viewer

POSTERS

IMAGES
 

Excellent article from the St. Petersburg Times:

The Idiot had suffered too much. He had been forced to live in a stable. He had witnessed his overseer, Hoglund, have sex with his sister. He had been dressed as a woman and paraded around Hoglund's neo-Nazi friends for evening entertainment. When Hoglund bankrupted the family the Idiot loved and when Hoglund's chauffeur destroyed the Idiot's motorcycle, the Idiot took revenge.

The Simple-Minded Murderer is built around a case of practically justifiable, and possibly divinely inspired, homicide. It is a handsome, superbly acted film, reminiscent of Bille August's Pelle the Conquerer and Werner Herzog's Every Man for Himself and God Against All (also released as The Mystery of Kasper Hauser).

Set in Sweden during what appears to be the late 1930s, The Simple-Minded Murderer relates the events that led to Hoglund's murder by the farmhand whom he had mistreated for years. The farmhand, Sven (Stellan Skarsgard), has a cleft palate. Because of his physical deformity, his speech impediment and his difficulty socializing with others, Sven is deemed a half-wit and called the Idiot by local residents. When Sven's mother dies, he is forced to move to Hoglund's farm where he works without pay for food and shelter. Sven is so gentle he can not drown a rat trapped in the stable where he sleeps.

Writer-director Hans Alfredson, who plays the cruel landowner and factory manager Hoglund, crafts his tale in flashback. The story begins after Hoglund's murder and slips back through Sven's memories.

Sven is first seen as a child, then as a young man studying from the Bible when he is denied a formal education. After his mother's death, Sven becomes a laborer on Hoglund's farm which is run in a feudal manner. Sven witnesses Hoglund beating his chauffeur, berating his wife and taking a tenant's last 300 kroner, which Hoglund burns in front of the man on Christmas Eve. When Sven can no longer tolerate his existence under Hoglund, he runs away to the Anderssons, successful tenant farmers who lease their land from Hoglund. The Anderssons give Sven a bed with real linen. They clothe him. They pay him for his work. They welcome him as a member of the family and don't discourage his growing affection for their crippled daughter, Anna (Maria Johansson).

Furious at their charity, Hoglund attempts to impoverish the Anderssons and destroy Sven. What Hoglund and the Andersson's don't know is that Sven, a devout Christian, believes he has been visited by three angels. In Sven's dreams, the seraphim urge him to take action and join them in heaven.

The Simple-Minded Murderer melds fantasy with reality, heaven with Earth. Viewers must draw their own conclusions about Sven's celestial visions. The movie even goes so far as to muddy its time setting. The Simple-Minded Murderer begins on the cusp of World War II, but Hoglund's murder takes place in a modern town with late-model autos on the streets. The movie evolves into a haunting, timeless allegory.

Alfredson's 1981 film predates Pelle the Conquerer by seven years. The situations in the movies are similar, and it's possible that Alfredson, a Swede, may have been influenced by Danish author Martin Andersen Nexo's four-volume novel that served as the basis for August's Pelle.

Rather than use a blustery, ineffectual stableman as his central character, Alfredson creates a social outcast doomed from birth. The Simple-Minded Murderer is an eloquent portrait of a man treated as a fool, a man denied the opportunity to live and love because of his disfigurement.

It is only fitting that this movie about an individual whose visions are molded by the Bible have as its score Verdi's Requiem. The soundtrack and Jorgen Radstrom's photography create a stirring tribute to a simple, misunderstood mortal.