On Netflix, six films by Hasse Ekman, Ingmar Bergman’s forgotten rival

Swedish Hasse Ekman’s films were elegant, deep and ultra popular. But eclipsed, from the 1950s, by those of his friend Ingmar Bergman. They come out of the shadows, thanks to a cycle on Netflix.

He who celebrated the outsiders in his films perhaps did not think of becoming one! Everything had started well for Hasse Ekman (1915-2004). Like Orson Welles, he directed his first feature film at the age of 25, and until 1950 he was the best known and most respected filmmaker in his country, Sweden. The most versatile too, linking at dizzying speed – but without ever wrinkling his shirt – delirious comedies, relationship dramas, expressionist thrillers or patriotic epics.

This impeccably dressed prodigy brings humanity, spirituality, joy and the art of storytelling to his screenplays, and to his stagings a neat form, without being academic. Himself an actor – rather charismatic, in a country where the greatest, Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller, were in front of and behind the camera – he gets the best out of his cast. In 1965, however, our dandy put an end to a career that was still lucrative, but no longer flamboyant, and retired to the Costa del Sol in Spain, where the sun is less misleading than that of the island of Fårö.

The 1950s indeed turn in favor of his compatriot Ingmar Bergman, with whom Hasse Ekman maintains a friendly rivalry, exaggerated by the media. The two authors steal actors, technicians and script ideas. Ekman signs in 1945 Royal Rabble, a draft of Fanny and Alexander, Where The Girl in the Third Row in 1949, a humanist response to the very black The prison that Bergman shot the same year, with in the main role (that of a cantankerous director!) a certain Hasse Ekman.

There is Capra in Ekman

The duo shares this pessimism typical of the existential darkness of the post-war period and of Strindberg’s theatrical heritage. At Ekman however, there is always the desire to offer an alternative to misery and disillusion. There is Capra in Ekman, which was inspired by Hollywood cinema. This is probably why he never broke through outside his country, until he fell into oblivion: he was not as exotic as Bergman.

Netflix now offers six of its films. When it’s day (1944) audaciously mixes adulterous crime and war epic. Once the door is closed (1946) succeeds, light years before Robert Altman, a choral film, the time of a night in a building in Stockholm (we even think of the ironic voyeurism of the Courtyard window by Hitchcock). A white cat (1950), through the quest of an amnesiac who fears being a sexual offender on the run, describes in a film noir atmosphere a junkie and nihilistic bohemian. In color, the funniest and splendidly choreographed jazz boy (1958) and Miss Classy (1959) competed against MGM musicals and George Cukor. These fables mischievously mock the mirage of success and fame, and Miss Classy is interpreted by the adorable Sickan Carlsson, the Swedish Doris Day.

Finally, the polar Big hit in Stockholm (1961) flirts with the new European waves and allows itself a robbery on a racetrack, yet very different from that of The Ultimate Raid, by Stanley Kubrick… These six works allow us to re-appreciate an author who, for a time, completely mastered his medium.

Watch on Netflix

q When it’s day
q Once the door is closed
r A white cat
r Miss Classy
r jazz boy
q Big hit in Stockholm

On Netflix, six films by Hasse Ekman, Ingmar Bergman’s forgotten rival