Metropolitan Presence

Stockholm, My Love, the first piece of fully fictional filmmaking from Mark Cousins, sees the acclaimed writer and director venture into new realms without losing his signature taste for the unexplored. In his documentaries, Cousins experiments with realities and mediums, even methods of release (at the International Rotterdam Film Festival this year he took an axe to the DCP of his comparative film essay Bigger Than The Shining).

In fiction, he holds on to curiosity, casting Swedish-born musician Neneh Cherry in her first feature role and sending her through the streets of Stockholm as the character Alva Achebe, who, during her wanderings, speaks to her absent father about identity, loss and men, amongst many other musings. In equal parts, this is a woman’s story of recovery and a shining homage to the Swedish capital city. Cousins spent time walking the streets to find the sources for his script. “There are lots of little street dramas and visual haikus in cities, I think, and I like capturing them,” he explains.

 “It’s exhilarating, shooting this way. During the shot, your mind is buzzing as you try to work out how to insert the scene into the film. A year later, the production returned to where I had originally filmed the street scenes, this time with Neneh. She looks where I looked and, through the power of editing, her character sees what I saw. The visual therefore inspires the script. Image and word as call and response.”

Another notable trait of Cousins that makes the leap from essay to fiction is an almost romantic take on his subject matter. The intricate approach that he takes when documenting narratives can only be driven by his love for it, and the same is clear of Stockholm. In the film’s 90-minute lifespan a multitude of settings are explored or glanced upon, each a product of Cousins’ own extensive wandering.

“The locations came from reading and walking. I read books about the city, its buildings and urbanism, and chose sites that caught my imagination. Then I walked between them, for days and days. They were my Hansel and Gretel crumbs.” These experiences are translated into the feature directly; at times the built landscape becomes part of the dialogue as a silent yet imperative character. As such, the filmmaking approach included narrowing down the range of locations by focusing on places that Cousins found moving and visually exciting, responding to the city as an emotive being. “I also ruled out more photographed, touristy places,” he notes.

“The idea was to film in some places that even many Stockholm residents might not have visited. It had to feel that Alva (Cherry) was straying off the beaten track.” It’s this decision that sets the tone of the film in its entirety – intimate and secretive, the equivalent of leaning in to catch a quiet conversation. Reaching the end of Alva’s journey isn’t nearly as important as the experience of accompanying her along the way, a credit to both Cousins and Stockholm alike.

Beth Webb

This article appears in Aesthetica Issue 77: State of Flux. For more information or to pick up a copy:

1. Trailer for Stockholm, My Love. Courtesy of BFI.