New film explores autonomy and loneliness in Sweden

3:45 min

This Spring brings 16 new Swedish films to the big screen and half of them are documentaries, including The Swedish Theory of Love, which has just hit cinemas across the country.

Director Erik Gandini tells Radio Sweden that his film scrutinises and criticises a defining feature of Swedish culture: the emphasis on individual independence and autonomy.

The whole idea of the People's Home, or Folkhemmet - a political concept that was fundamental in the formation of the welfare state - is premised on citizens being independent and autonomous, says, Gandini. At the same time, the emphasis on managing on your own, of not being dependent on family, friends or partners, has also led to a great deal of loneliness, according to Gandini.

"Sweden has more than any other country embraced the idea of independent and autonomous individuals and has created institutions that guarantee that we are not dependent on one another," Gandini tells Radio Sweden.

His film shows the negative consequences of this fundamental national value. For instance, Gandini points out that one in four Swedes die alone and that 2.7 million Swedes feel lonely. But his emphasis on the dark side of the Swedish theory of love – a phrase first explored in a book by historians by Lars Trägårdh and Henrik Berggren – has also garnered criticism.

Gandini says that is understandable. “When you question a society’s embraced and celebrated values, you’re really questioning a whole country. I have my outsider’s perspective and that probably makes it even more provocative,” says Gandini who has lived in Sweden for 30 years.

According to the Swedish theory of love, says Gandini, "true, authentic love can happen only when two individuals are fundamentally independent from one another" and that is a notion that can appear odd to outsiders and to those arriving in Sweden as immigrants.

The Swedish Theory of Love premiered over the weekend and climbed straight to number 13 on the list of most viewed movies in Sweden.