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Wednesday, July 18, 2001
In praise of older actresses
By KAORI SHOJI
It's pretty hard to carry on as a woman in this world, but Swedish film "Gossip" tells you it's tougher for actresses. Especially when they are no longer young and must scheme and fight for love, jobs and respect. Directed by Colin Nutley ("Under Solen"), "Gossip" revolves around one day in the lives of nine women, all in the acting profession and all of whom have just auditioned for the title role in an American remake of "Queen Christina," which in 1933 pushed Swedish actress Greta Garbo to Hollywood stardom.
It's obvious that "Gossip" was made in the land of Bergman and Ikea, not Southern California: The screen is full of women over 40 and men over 50, there are deep conversations and scrutinizing close-ups in stark, stylish settings. Nothing very thrilling. If "Gossip" was proposed to a Hollywood boardroom full of Havana-sucking gents, the project would probably have never got off the ground; just too low on the sexiness.
But ah, this is Sweden, and standards are different. Older women are treated with reverence and are still in demand, both professionally and in their private lives. Such is the message brought to you by "Gossip."
And yet, these women are not whooping it up. They are struggling and trying to come to terms with middle age, job competition, having or not having children, relationships with men . . . This is what critics call a "woman's movie," treading on the familiar ground of "women's problems." Will women in movies always be plagued by them? Could they ever move on to new terrain, never having to voice their old angsts ever? Remember that after she hit 40, Greta Garbo just exited gracefully and never spoke in public again.
Despite the focus on the Christina part and everyone's burning wish to become "the next Greta," Garbo's reticence and life is never discussed. The women are, however, eager to discuss their own lives -- they believe wholeheartedly in themselves and their calling. It's just that the ground beneath gets a bit shaky sometimes.
Git (Gunilla Roor), for example, has worked hard to form her career, but just when she has attained true skill, a director tells her that she is too old to play certain parts and gives her role to a much younger actress with zilch experience. Git also faces the painful fact that her boyfriend Alexander (Johan Widerberg) is leaving her for a fresh-faced blonde. Then there's Cecilia (Marie Richardson), who is nine months pregnant but refuses to divulge the name of the father and is all set to embark on single motherhood, telling her friends: "I don't want a man. I just want a baby." Anxiety and pressure eventually prompt her to call the father (who happens to be the husband of a good friend) and demand some emotional support. Stella (Helena Bergstrom) is a lesbian, and hopelessly in love with Karin (Marika Lagercrantz), who is married to Magnus (Rolf Lassgard), who is the secret father of Cecilia's baby.
So it goes. Nine women and their husbands/boyfriends, each with her hangups and crises, each convinced that bagging the Christina role will transform her life forever. Unable to take the suspense, they sink into chairs at the therapist's office, go for aimless drives or take it out on their husbands. To doubly complicate things, the husbands and boyfriends are all exes of one or another of the women, so no one is able to get away and everyone knows exactly what everyone else's partners are like. All this stirs up gossip, recriminations and misunderstandings.
But when it's time for the audition results to come in, personal problems are swept aside. Determined to be cool about it, the nine decide to hold a women-only party in honor of Rebecca (Lena Endre)'s 40th birthday.
Nutley, an Englishman, settled in Sweden in 1984 and brings to the screen his understanding and admiration of Swedish aesthetics. The scenery is in colors like deep navy blue and black, the compositions are sharp and uncluttered. The women appear in dark, simple clothing and the soundtrack is an interesting mix of Abba, Handel and Yoshikazu Mera.
Despite its insights, "Gossip" ultimately fails to live up to its title: There's no meat on the bones. Nothing is juicy or spicy or just plain gossipy enough. Perhaps it's Swedish to exercise elegant restraint. Or maybe it's Nutley's way of paying homage to Garbo, who remains one of the most mysterious actresses in history.