1993 Directed by Ake Sandgren. Starring Jesper Salen, Stellan Skarssgard, Basia Frydman, Niclas Olund.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 19, 1994
Ten-year-old Roland Schutt (Salen) has more than his share of troubles growing up in 1920s Stockholm. His father's a socialist and his mother's a Jew and young Roland wonders what that combination makes him. Moreover, he wonders about how he can be certain that he was meant to be Swedish. A bad case of sciatica causes his stately father to limp and take morphine for the pain. In the little shop owned by his family, Roland's mother sells socialist newspapers and illegal condoms. His brother aspires to become a boxer yet practices on Roland's nose more than on a boxing bag. In fact, Roland's nose (and various other body parts) are bloodied, bruised, bandaged, and re-traumatized throughout the course of the movie. His schoolteacher is a bully and an anti-Semite and his classmates are not much better. Roland's longing for a bicycle coupled with his naïveté leads his classmates to take advantage of his tinkering skills and to ultimately set him up for a cruel fall. Roland's lightest moments come when he steals condoms from the store to create toys -- “balloons with knobs” and condom slingshots -- he can sell to the neighborhood children for cash. The movie is based on the autobiography of Roland Schutt, who grew up to become a Swedish inventor. The story is a tender coming-of-age story marked by excellent performances and an artful rendering of the tensions evoked by the dawn of a new century. From his father, Roland learns to keep his eyes always open and never shield his sight from harsh truths. From his constant physical injuries, the boy learns that though wounds and bruises are inevitable, they need not be incapacitating. The movie uses all these aspects of Roland's maturation to create an overall character, yet presents them in a way that often appears to herald them as subplots or dramatic directions that, later, disappointingly sputter out of steam. It is a story consisting of elements rather than conclusions. The freeze frame at the end of the movie suggests that the director has watched Truffaut's coming-of-age classic The 400 Blows a few too many times. But The Slingshot also evokes recent movies like Europa, Europa and that other Swedish coming-of-age hit, My Life as a Dog. While The Slingshot never achieves the narrative brilliance of some of these other movies, it has a winsomeness and honesty that suits it just fine.