“Sweden can boast the healthiest children, who are the least childlike children in the world. The oldest and loneliest old folk and the freest living and unhappiest women you’ll ever meet. Sweden, Stockholm, Heaven or Hell?”
Heaven or Hell indeed, Sweden must have seemed like a perfect place for a mondo movie in the late 1960’s. A prosperous country with a seemingly limitless supply of gorgeous and uninhibited blondes, a high suicide rate and the promise of free sex, there was bound to be enough strangeness going on in the land of the North to merit an exposé. Enter Luigi Scattini, who in the wake of Jacopetti and Prosperi’s successful Mondo Cane started turning out mondo fare such as Sexy Magico and Amore Primitivo. He would also later go on to direct Angeli bianchi…angeli neri and a quartet of sexy tropical island films starring the former Miss Ethiopia Zeudi Araya.
In keeping with the already well-established mondo formula of either showing genuine footage and adding hyperbole narration over it or simply staging sensational footage, Scattini shows the good, bad and the ugly sides of Swedish life.
It’s the usual mixed bag of mondo footage. Everything from women dancing at a lesbian club, traditional Saint Lucia celebrations, a girl who’s a meter maid by day and poses for “artistic” photos at night, an incestual marriage, girls in a bar turning down Swedish men in favour of black guys because they “are more primitive, more to the point” and footage from a swingers club “where they watch films we’re not even allowed to mention” are some of the footage featured. Unsurprisingly Svezia focuses a lot on the different aspects of sex. The narration claims the sexual education lessons in state schools take place twice weekly and that “they study from text books which in some countries would land teachers, publishers and even the school cleaners in a court of law”
The footage that seems genuine consists mainly on down and outs drinking antifreeze and eating shoe polish sandwiches. Other scenes such as a gang of bikers raping a young girl (who looks suspiciously like Marie Liljedahl but I’m probably mistaken) along with the obligatory suicide footage are obviously faked.
As per usual in mondo films a lot of the footage is just given a lurid slant by the narration. One segment shows footage from a TV show where teenagers are asked about sex. You can hear the interviewer asking the girl, in Swedish, when she first had any sexual education but in the narration it quickly turns into a question of when she had her first sexual experience.
A boat trip with teenagers dancing, snogging and drinking soft drinks quickly turns into a sex and drugs extravaganza and so on.
Enrico Maria Salerno narrated the Italian version of the film while Edmund Purdom did the English one. Purdom was already a veteran in the Italian film industry at the time and he would later go on to star in films such as The Fifth Cord, Mister Scarface and Absurd.
It’s impossible to discuss Svezia without mentioning the fantastic soundtrack by Piero Umiliani. Many of the readers will be familiar with it through the excellent Easy Tempo release. Mah na’ mah na’ is of course the most well known piece of music from the film since it went on to be used on the Muppet Show (For those who wonder, it’s played during a sequence with 20 odd girls in a sauna and then running out in the snow, most of them chastely covered by their towels). There’s also the excellent vocal number You tried to warn me sung by Lydia McDonald and further tracks using Alessandro Alessandroni’s I Cantori Moderni. Even Anna Lena Lövgren’s Lyckliga Gatan turns up during a party scene.
I’d wanted to see this for years and had more or less given up hope of coming across an English language copy. Then my Japanese friend Tomomichi advised me that Japanese company Avanz Entertainment had released the English language version as a limited edition DVD in November 2004. It went out of print just after release and is sadly already virtually impossible to get hold of.
The film is presented full screen with titles in English. The print used is far from pristine. There is a lot of dirt and scratches on the print, the colours look a little bit faded and the authoring of the discs leaves something to be desired but considering the rarity of the English language print it’s a wonder to see it at all. Avanz have unfortunately decided to add an onscreen logo. The small CIAO! Cinema D’Amore is nearly transparent and keeps popping up in the lower corners during the film. Hardly detrimental to one’s enjoyment or the film but annoying all the same. The Japanese subs are burnt-in. There are no extras on the disc.
While this obscure film is obviously of greater interest to Swedes than to most others but there’s a lot savour here. The narration is endlessly quotable and suitably over the top “The children listen dutifully, perhaps a trifle bored, the same boredom that they will show when they fall in love, make love, commit suicide and so on”. Not quite as sensational or lurid as one might think, Sweden Heaven or Hell is still essential viewing material for mondo fans and for curious Swedes alike.