The Swedish film Under the Sun is shot like a succession of Playboy "Girls of Summer" videos, complete with scenes of honeyed meadows, a beautiful woman hiking up her skirt while pitching hay or copulating lovers bathed in rain showers. Although it has a little more story than most stroke videos and far less skin, it's hard to shake the impression that this particular line of soft-core prettiness has been pursued many times before.
Lumpen farmer Olof (Rolf Lassgård), whose life is one of bachelor solitude, takes out a newspaper ad for a housekeeper, "photograph appreciated." What Olof (who suggests a Swedish John Goodman) winds up with is a woman out of Hugh Hefner's fantasies. Ellen Lind (Helena Bergström) is a blond cat-eyed babe, half Grace Kelly, half California beach bunny, who whips Olof's bachelor domicile into shape. And, as one would expect, Ellen is also soon dusting out the cobwebs of Olof's libido.
Viewers have certainly seen this kind of sepia-tinted, saccharine portrait of the past in other pictures, from the output of Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) to a hundred generic American straight-to-video ventures that use a historical setting (established in large part for the aesthetic charge of pretty girls in floral dresses bathing from porcelain bowls) to lend a little heft to the soft-core follies. Complicating the eroticism of Under the Sun's marriage of soft-filter sunlight, horses and amorous farmers is director Colin Nutley's slightly off-key sense of "cute." For example, Nutley makes a joke several times in the film of the sheepish way Ellen and Olof shyly dump their chamber pots in the morning, but the romantic poetry Nutley courts in such gestures seems to continually allude him.
The complication in this farmer-takes-a-mail-order-bride idyll is Olof's friend, Erik (Johan Widerberg). While Olof is enormous, meaty and goofy, unable to read and prone to loaning money, Erik is a fast-talking sharpie. Erik drives a creamsicle two-tone convertible, has been to America and by his estimation, has had "hundreds" of ladies. With his carrot-top pompadour, black clothes and jive talking, Erik is a visitation from the modern world of 1956 lost in the midst of Nutley's timeless farmyard paradise.
Erik is Nutley's attempt at a colorful but crude contrast to Olof's decent, loveable farmer, and he smells a rat in the comely shape of Ellen, a woman whose looks and efficiency in domestic matters seem to make her ill suited for a life of farm drudgery. Erik also has ulterior motives for getting Ellen out of the picture as she budgets Olof's money, collects his debts and keeps track of all the money that previously fed Erik's horse-racing habit.
The conflict between Erik and Ellen, which always carries a hint of eroticism to it and threatens to break out into full-fledged bumping and grinding at any moment, is the main conflict in Under the Sun. Erik seems inserted simply to delay what feels like an inevitable turn in the storyline, and when Ellen finally reveals the secret you know she is harboring, it seems yet another artificial gimmick to get in the way of the thick-necked Olof's happiness.
Under the Sun is a jumbled, borderline chaotic film that cuts suddenly into action without establishing a reason or introduces characters, like the town's nosey priest, who are never returned to again. The film often suggests a director less interested in the glue of storytelling as he is in the good stuff, which for Nutley must mean knicker-dropping romps in sunny meadows.
Critic Roger Ebert set up a straw man debate in his review of Under the Sun, suggesting critics were either too jaded and hip to get a film like Under the Sun or, like himself, attuned to the sweet, sentimental side of life portrayed in the film. In truth, the film is more sleazy than sweet. Though it purports to speak of more innocent, simpler times and the pleasures of farm life, Under the Sun feels as honest and innocently sensual as a Cheetah lap dance.
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