Despite this being Mark Cousins’ first fictional feature Stockholm, My Love is not what you’d call a conventional narrative. That’s to be expected from the documentarian behind the 15-hour long A Story of Film: An Odyssey. Stockholm, My Love however is more reminiscent of his cityscape work such as Here Be Dragons and I am Belfast. A wafer-thin narrative that exists as little more than a framing device for an extended love letter to the aforementioned city.
The story, such as it is, features the acting debut of singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry as Alva. An architecture tutor, Alva is due to give a lecture on the anniversary of a traumatic road accident that still haunts her. Spontaneously she does a bunk, wandering the streets and parks of Stockholm narrating her innermost thoughts and feelings to her late father. As an architect Alva is also able to relay the details of the city’s various building with a detail that is surely fascinating to architecture students and no one else. Makes one wish she had just gone ahead with the lecture.
It’s not to say that Cherry isn’t a compelling stage presence. She certainly commands the screen with authority. Her monologue on the immigrant experience in Sweden evokes feeling of being close to prejudice, of sympathising with it even without experiencing it directly. Predictably she carried an air of disappointment considering the current circumstances. The real emotional climax though is the scene of the accident. There Alva contemplates the death of the man she collides with in tragic detail. The life he led, the people who loved him, the future he had. It’s a scene heavy with melancholy that only works with Cherry’s weighted delivery.
Alva’s journey is broken up by musical interludes, featuring existing tracks and new compositions by Cherry herself. These go a long way to boosting the atmosphere, bringing Stockholm to life in a way that Cousins’ footage sadly cannot. Ultimately, that’s the thing that kills Stockholm, My Love. In the past, the documentary director has lacked either the need or the will to economise for the sake of narrative. A fault all too clear in his first work of fiction. Shots linger unnecessarily, his architectural trivia fails to enhance the story and too much time is spent between the small number of plot points.
Stockholm, My Love is an interesting experiment for Cousins’ and Cherry. However, it does a far better job of demonstrating the talents of the latter and highlights the limits of the former. Cousins’ documentaries will remain his strongest work for some time but he does show potential for capturing setting. Maybe that’s all he wants to accomplish with Stockholm, My Love, it’s just a shame that for a film, that’s not enough.
Stockholm, My Love is released on June 16th.