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'Under the Sun'

'Under the Sun' is a sensuous rural romance

Friday, January 11, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

That old poet's sigh, "There's nothing new under the sun," is beautifully belied in Olof's rural Sweden. What's new is the woman who answers his classified ad. What's "Under the Sun" in this languid summer of 1956 is a pastoral romance with a twist (now at the Harris Theater, Downtown).

'Under The Sun'

RATING: R in nature for sexually and brief nudity

STARRING: Rolf Lassgard, Helena Bergstrom, Johan Widerberg

DIRECTOR: Colin Nutley

WEB SITE: www.railroad



Three twists, actually, and three secrets -- one for each member of an unlikely trio. Sweet Olof (Rolf Lassgard), a lumbering farmer who can't read or write, is also a lumbering virgin. It was agony for him to work up the nerve to place that ad:

"Lonely farmer, 39, owns car. Seeks young lady housekeeper. Photograph appreciated."

The responses don't exactly flood in. Total of two. The one with a picture is from foxy blonde Ellen (Helena Bergstrom), a city girl who never set dainty foot on a farm but gets the job the minute she steps off the train in fabulously inappropriate suit and gloves. Olof is smitten -- to the scornful outrage of his young friend Erik (Johan Widerberg), who is certain that she's a gold digger.

Better a gold digger than a gravedigger, which is what Erik is. But his more consuming occupation is horse racing, the indulgence of which has cost illiterate Olof plenty in unsecured loans. Erik keeps his "books" -- such as they are -- quite casually. Now, all of a sudden, this meddling dame takes over and has the audacity to audit him. In return, he sets out to do a little undercover auditing of her past.

Based on H.E. Bates' short story "The Little Farm," the tale is sumptuously, sensuously told by British (turned Swedish) director Colin Nutley ("House of Angels"), whose pictorial skills match his narrative sense and sensibilities: A scruffy old-yellerish dog in a pond, a dew-dropped spider web, the summer air of the fields so visibly thick and luxuriant, you'd swear you can actually smell it.

Best of a super set of performances is Lassgard's gentle Olof -- so big he has to stoop under every doorjamb, so painfully ashamed of his illiteracy, so inept at ducking all the quidnuncs in his church choir, including the gossipy minister.

"When will the strawberries be ripe?" Ellen asks.

"When they're the color of your nails," comes a reply full of love.

Bergstrom, with her yellow oval of a '50s hairdo, looks every bit the Hitchcock heroine -- Tippi, Kim or Grace -- and exhibits a Swedish meld of their diffident character traits. She's the real-life wife of director Nutley and appears in all his films, for good reason.

You'll especially relish the fresh-faced Widerberg (son of the great Bo), the oversexed red-headed rogue who manipulates Olof brilliantly but fails to charm Ellen with his Elvis imitation or funny American interjections. (Erik's thoughtful post-coital words to a seduced girlfriend: "That wasn't so bad, was it?")

A perfectly lyrical soundtrack to match the lyrical story and atmosphere is supplied by Paddy Maloney's Chieftains -- with an assist from Chopin and Faure.

"Under the Sun" is to bask beneath in every way.

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