A bittersweet coming-of-age film based on the autobiography of Swedish inventor Roland Schutt, THE SLINGSHOT was nominated for five Gold Bugs (the Swedish Oscars), including Best Picture, and was the Swedish submission to the Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Film. Set in 1920s
Stockholm and focusing on the trials and tribulations of a young Swedish boy, the film yielded frequent comparison to the similarly-themed MY LIFE AS A DOG. While parallels can be drawn between the two films, each is distinctively delightful.
Twelve-year-old Roland Schutt (Jesper Salen) is a magnet for trouble. He is doubly persecuted because of his mother's religion and his father's politics. Zipa Schutt (Basia Frydman) is a Russian Jew, and her husband Fritiof (Stellan Skarsgard) is a Swedish Socialist. Roland is bullied by his
schoolmates and openly derided by his teacher, Lundin (Ernst-Hugo Jaregard); meanwhile, he has to contend with a stern father and older brother Bertil (Niclas Olund), an amateur boxer who uses Roland's face as a punching bag.
Roland struggles to establish a sense of identity amid contradictory impulses--he is a Jew, yet he was baptized Christian and is not circumcised; he is a Socialist, yet he does not really embrace the party's ideals. The one facet of his identity of which he is certain is his budding talent as an
inventor. He's particularly intrigued by the condoms which his mother secretly sells (dissemination of birth control information was illegal in Sweden at the time). He sells them as balloons to neighborhood children until his outraged mother confiscates them. Undaunted, Roland creates a slingshot
using metal scraps and two of the contraband condoms. His sale of this creation lands him yet another thrashing by his teacher.
Another of Roland's entrepreneurial efforts involves refurbishing bicycles. The bikes are brought to Roland's basement workshop by some older boys, and he never questions their origin until he is charged with their theft. Though innocent, Roland is browbeaten into signing a confession. He is
sent to reform school, a fate which ironically proves to be his salvation, providing him with a fresh start and a respite from his difficulties at home and in school. Before leaving, Roland exacts revenge on the school administration by infecting the teachers' lavatory with lice.
THE SLINGSHOT blends humor, warmth, and poignancy vividly to delineate episodes in Roland's life. The approach is light-handed throughout; darker elements of the story, including a young prostitute's death by drowning, are not explored. The result is a self-consciously "life-affirming" (albeit
genuinely uplifting) cinematic experience that misses opportunities for deeper analysis. Jesper Salen is superb in the central role, commanding both empathy and respect. Never a passive victim, he stands up to his aggressors with dogged truculence, remaining resilient despite repeated thrashings
and setbacks. Skarsgard scores equally well as Roland's father, a zealous Socialist and devoted father who teaches Roland to take all of life's beatings, physical and verbal, with his eyes open.
Filmed on location in Prague and Stockholm, the production employs impeccable period settings and a picturesque landscape, filmed in earthy brown and gray tones. Director-screenwriter Ake Sandgren's straightforward approach is well-suited to this virtually irresistible film. (Violence, nudity,sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: A bittersweet coming-of-age film based on the autobiography of Swedish inventor Roland Schutt, THE SLINGSHOT was nominated for five Gold Bugs (the Swedish Oscars), including Best Picture, and was the Swedish submission to the Academy Awards as Best Foreign… (more)