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[whitespace] 'Under the Sun' The Milkmaid's Tale: Rolf Lassgard to Helena Bergstrom: 'So you squeeze the teat gently, like this.'


'Under the Sun' approximates a soft-core teen sex comedy, without the teens

By Jim Aquino

THINK ZALMAN King gone all Miramax-y, and you'll get a good idea of the prepackaged, tweedy feel of director Colin Nutley's Swedish countryside romance Under the Sun, an unabashedly hokey and handsomely photographed piece of art-house soft-core.

Cinematographer Jens Fischer photographs the film in lots of warm, pastoral tones and frequently bathes Nutley's wife and star, blonde temptress Helena Bergstrom, in buttery light. There's an abundance of shots of Bergstrom in '50s
ingenue-style sundresses, doing farmhand chores in suggestive poses.

The plot of Under the Sun, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar two years ago, reads like a teen sex comedy, but hardly anything here is played for laughs. In fact, the teen here is a bearlike 40-year-old Swedish farmer named Olof (Rolf Lassgard). Shy, illiterate and unkempt, Olof looks older than 40 but acts like a gawky, inarticulate adolescent yearning for female companionship. So he places an ad in a newspaper for a young female housekeeper, but of course he doesn't mention the female companionship part in his ad.

Gorgeous city gal Ellen Lind (Bergstrom) answers the ad and agrees to work for Olof, who's instantly smitten. So is Olof's only friend, the town's gravedigger, Erik (Johan Widerberg), a sailor so enamored with '50s America after a stint there that he wears a ducktail hairdo and dresses like Elvis and James Dean. Miss Lind is oblivious to the advances of Erik, who's boorish and vain and much more juvenile than Olof.

The film's best (and at times only) joke is that this skirt-chasing sailor who brags about his worldliness and sexual prowess looks like he's barely past drinking age. The boyish Widerberg resembles a grown-up version of that redheaded stepchild who used to bug the hell out of Gary Coleman during the later seasons of Diff'rent Strokes. It's as if that little kid cut the angelic act and grew up into a total jerk, taking all those cutesy tics that won over the show's Drummond family and channeling them into more devious behavior--like his callous treatment of both his own girlfriend Lena (Linda Ulvaeus) and Ellen.

The weaselly, despicable Erik will set your teeth on edge, yet this Swedish Eddie Haskell is a kick to have around, especially whenever Under the Sun gets way too austere and bland. He provides the only dramatic tension for a film that needs more of it and--to borrow a word from one critic--has a tendency to be "up-with-peopley."

Under the Sun (R; 120 min.) Directed by Colin Nutley, written by H.E. Bates and Johanna Hald, starring Rolf Lassgard, Helena Bergstrom and Johan Widerberg, starts Friday in San Jose at the Camera 3.

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From the October 18-24, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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