Ravens

In 1970’s Sweden near a small village Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are desperate for their young adult son, Luke to stay and run the dairy farm with them. Luke isn’t having it though. He’s seen grander ways and has dreams of a different life in a wider world.

Wait, what? Rewind that… on Tatooine in the 1970’s a farmer named Agne (Reine Brynolfsson) and his wife Gärd (Maria Heiskanen) are desperate for their son Klas (Jacob Nordström) to stay and run the moisture farm…. ok, now I’m confused.

Swedish film Ravens is basically the Tatooine moisture farm scenes from Star Wars Episode IV minus the droids for 103 very slow, quiet minutes.  

Hard working farmer Agne struggles with the harsh reality of his daily life, hoping his teenage son Klas will take over the farm and continue his legacy. Klas, as any sane boy would, dreams of a world far away from this grim, literally shitty, rural existence.

There had been a time when farming was respected and lucrative, feeding the family and serving as a cornerstone of rural life. By the time the 1970’s rolled around family farming in Sweden was giving way to corporate farms and imported goods. Blame technology and efficient shipping.

“…Klas, as any sane boy would, dreams of a world far away from this grim, literally shitty, rural existence.”

Agne is an angry, broken man. He walks through his days like an automaton (one that isn’t familiar with 6 million forms of communication), nervously chain-smoking as he attempts to navigate a life that went sideways long ago. He doesn’t relate to his wife or his neighbors. His farm isn’t producing and he’s losing money. His livestock are mysteriously dying. He works himself nearly to death just to stay in the same hopeless place.

The archetype of the laconic man who can only express himself with broad physicality, but “secretly” feels deeply his family roots and wishes to preserve what his forefathers brought forth from the soil with their own hands… is frankly kind of tired and tiring at this point. Not only is it an overused trope, but also reeks of the toxic, sometimes fatal, masculinity that has testosterone-poisoned cultures for decades. In American cinema we’ve worked through this issue and after the horse died we did beat it for awhile, but we’re all better now, thanks. By the time Agne realizes he might actually have to talk to Klas, it’s too late. Klas loves school and birds and has seen pretty girls. He’s on his way out.

There’s nothing noble or sympathetic about Agne. He’s a man who won’t change. His fate is sealed by decisions his father and grandfather made generations ago that he stubbornly clings to as the world changes around him. All he’s missing is a red MAGA hat and he’d fit right in with our American deplorables.  

Grey death hangs over this film as though the reaper himself were lounging just off-camera. Skillful cinematography does frame those grey shades of the decaying farm beautifully. Animals are depicted dying, giving birth, and other bodily-fluid based functions one would experience on a farm. Klas is meant to be the New Hope in this tale, but any hope for him will come from rejecting his father’s notions of patrilineal legacy and striking out on his own.

Ravens (2017). Written and directed by Jens Assur. Starring  Reine Brynolfsson, Peter Dalle, Maria Heiskanen. Ravens is playing at the 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival.

6 out of 10

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