Festival Review: A Serious Game (2016)

Den allvarsamma leken

An evocative period drama of forbidden love, Pernilla August’s A Serious Game is disappointingly short on characterisation and emotion.

A Quiet Passion

by Mark Wilshin

A Serious Game

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Based on the novel by Hjalmar Sjöderberg, Pernilla August’s A Serious Game is an evocative adaptation of a forbidden love at the turn of the previous century. It follows the intertwining stories of penniless proofreader Arvid (Sverrir Gudnason) and artist’s daughter Lydia Stille (Karin Franz Körlof) who, upon meeting on her father’s island, fall quickly in love. But when her father dies and Lydia is free to marry, Arvid is unable to ask for her hand, with neither money nor reputation to his name. But continuously drawn back together – despite both having made profitable marriages – they’re unable to resist their desire. With a script by Lone Scherfig, A Serious Game tells its story through the dual perspective of Arvid and Lydia, only briefly touching on the effects their affair has on husbands, wives and daughters. Nor is there any sense of scandal, as their divorces bring only betrayal and fear. Instead, August’s film focuses quite simply on their passion – and, as might be expected from an actor-director, their performances – with only the closing scene of the eclipse to provide any kind of subtext or symbolism. With grimy dark boarding rooms and heavy drawing rooms however, the production design and cinematography in 4:3 ratio work together to create an atmospheric reproduction of the era. But passionless and unaffecting, A Serious Game doesn’t take its illicit love too seriously.

A Serious Game is now showing at the Berlin Film Festival

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