By Kevin Le Gendre
Scene after scene of Neneh Cherry ghosting through the cityscapes of an iconic European city might well sound like an extended pop video. But nothing could be further from the truth in documentary maker Mark Cousins’ first stab at a major feature. Cherry does contribute to the soundtrack but what counts is her acting. This is the story of a woman coming to terms with a lingering trauma and heavy load of guilt who tries to process her own feelings by a lengthy personal tour of the Swedish capital where she lives and works. Alva [Cherry] is an architect who already has a strong relationship with the various features of the urban anatomy. Now the perspective of the buildings, churches, parks, canals and bridges comes to mirror the perspective of her own life.
Cousins takes full advantage of the numerous backdrops of a city that is alternately forbidding and inviting, austere and serene, shadowy and luminous, to chart the protagonist’s shifts through disconsolation to optimism if not elation. The key visual metaphor is the change of light throughout the piece, which starts in a pool of bomb-blast grey that conspires to drain the life out of Cherry’s cheeks and brightens into a golden sheen that marks her retrieval of some kind of inner peace, albeit a fragile one. With the camera clinging to her like an unwanted second skin, Cherry really has to carry the whole movie, and her vital presence is further enhanced by an overdubbed monologue in which she lays bare her feelings as if she were having a heart to her with the viewer. What gives added depth to proceedings is the socio-political fabric woven around the body of the film, particularly the references to Alba’s Afro Swedish roots, ageing, immigration, multiculturalism as it is shaped, crucially, by town planning, and the ways of hardy Nordics. Plunging naked into freezing water is not meaningless but it assumes more significance when it is assessed by somebody who has suffered the chill of a tragedy that is not of their own making, the wholly icy responsibility of being an ‘accidental killer’. Deeply introspective but not alienating Stockholm My Love is a well-pitched treatise on human fortitude in an urban environment that intelligently probes the fluid border between past and present and what is said and left unsaid.