Review: Sweetwater

Sweetwater was probably Norway’s first hardcore science fiction film (not counting the TV series Blindpassasjer) and is still one of a small handful sci-fi productions ever made in the Nordic country.

Sweetwater takes place a few years into the future, when Western civilization has been laid in ruins. A family is forced to seek refuge in a waste dump, where they live on scraps and hope. But they don’t live there alone!

Just so you know, sweetwaterstill04there are no laserguns or shiny futuristic vehicles. Sweetwater is not sci-fi in the Star Wars sense, but more in the Mad Max / Escape from New York tradition, with destroyed cities, worn down cars, freakish people and dirt (although compared to most movies, low budget dirt). In other words, post-apocalysm. Anything else would have cost too much money, and could not have had that socio-realistic message which used to be so important to Norwegian movie making. By actually doing something different than 90 minutes of dialogue between two drug addicts, Glomm’s movie was part of a wave of movies that in the mid and late 1980s signalled the arrival of “entertaining” movies in Norway.

Another different experience about Sweetwater is that for once in a Norwegian movie we are given good acting. Not fantastic, but good. Even though the same actors appear in many other movies where they act stiff and wooden (I strongly believe Norwegian actors take lessons at drama school to learn to be extra wooden), they can perform well if given the right direction and motivation, and that seems to have worked out in this case. Maybe the subject matter inspired them. Exceptionally creepy is Sverre Anker Ousdal, one of our film veterans, who usually plays heroes, but has scary white hair and a grim grin on his face. Nevertheless, what is annoying and typical when Norwegians hire Swedish supporting actors, is that Sweetwater‘s token Swede, Sven Wollter, outshines the Norwegians with his performance. There is something about the training of Swedish actors that always makes them better than their Norwegian colleagues (coupled with the fact that Swedish actors work more in TV and movies than Norwegian actors do).

On the technical side; the set design is quite good for a Norwegian offbeat movie, the music is experimental/industrial and very fitting, the photography is good too, but the story is a bit slow. It feels like watching a painting being painted about people and a violent place to live, but once everything is ready and the interesting process is over, there is a feeling of not going anywhere, just more of the same. Ironically, this story flaw is symbolized in the visuals on at least three occasions where footage or sound is re-used to prolong the film physically.

Sweetwater is a science fiction film on the artsy side, so it has sex and nudity too. It is not a kids’ movie, which is underlined by the metaphors about today’s society and current degeneration of human emotion and empathy. Unfortunately the slowness of the film makes it evident that there is nothing here that has not been explored in similar movies already, from Death Race 2000 via Escape from Absolom to The Postman. Watch Sweetwater as a peculiar entry in the post-apocalyptic subgenre, if you can get to it at all. It’s not widely distributed.

Rated 5 of 10.

Director: Lasse Glomm
Norway, 1988

P.S. The movie is a Swedish-Norwegian co-production, and as such qualifies as belonging to both countries, but as the actors, director and writer all are Norwegian, I count the movie as Norwegian.

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