Review: The Apple War

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

Viewing this movie is something like letting one’s mind indulge in a little game of free-association which employs all the wandering, illogical, illusory devices of a long and pleasant dream. Getting swept into its labyrinth of fairytale bumblings, mythical burlesque and social satire is as simple as falling through a rabbit hole into a kind of campy Wonderland where you almost expect Woody Allen to pop up, clad in fig leaves, perhaps tooting a souped-up pastoral on his clarinet in travesty of Pan. If you see something you don’t like here, something a little too-much, a little too facile—like the Hitlerian bit in the scene where a rumbling army of mechanized agricultural paraphernalia and boot-clicking construction workers invade the tranquil hamlet of Anglamark—hang on; you will probably be rewarded later on with something to make it all seem worthwhile. I mean, where else in the history of special effects can you find anything to compare with the spectacle of a Jolly Good Giant pissing on the flames of fascism, then eating a neo-Nazi bad guy and tossing aside his VW bug like an empty nutshell? Danielsson’s brand of satire often takes the form of similarly indulgent cinematic one-liners—maybe that is Woody Allen peeking around the corner of the local sex show as Severin the mad inventor catapults to work on a giant rubber band!—and in general his sense of parody seems more dense and sophisticated, but no less funny, than Allen’s. Ancient myth gets tangled with cinematic history gets tangled with Shakespearean allusion as our young hero swallows a toiled and troubled witch’s brew from an all-too-appropriate Coke bottle, then ventures, magic sword in hand, on a cross-country Quest which lands him on the set of a B science-fiction movie starring something resembling Godzilla—all, of course, to secure the gold which will buy off the bad guys and save the old apple orchards from the evils of overdevelopment. Of course!…

There’s something weird going on here all right, and it gets weirder the more we see. Danielsson seems more to be having a good time than trying to make a point. He is having such a good time, in fact, that the overplayed-for laughs and throwaway slapstick often make the movie totter precariously toward a kind of self-parody: the film comments on itself from time to time, underlining its own absurdity and in essence saying Sure, this is insane. All of that’s OK as long as it doesn’t get out of hand, and Danielsson doesn’t let it. There is enough genuinely funny stuff to keep the film from becoming altogether esoteric. The story itself does kind of fizzle about three-fourths of the way through the movie; it just seems to get lost somewhere in a tangle of meandering digressions which go shooting off like the branches of some out-of-control tree and never really converge again in any halfway logical manner. But what the hell—there is a wedding celebration at the end, and marriage always works so well as a handy catchall metaphor having somethingorother to do with unity, artistic and otherwise, that we figure it must imply something about coherence in this strange tale. But I don’t know. The movie doesn’t really have to make a great deal of sense in order to work. At its conclusion, when Severin has at long last found the frog-princess of his dreams and all the Germans are dead and that crowd of wonderful people is giving us the parting Mouseketeer wave and people in the audience are thinking smugly to themselves, “Ah yes, so it was all just in fun”—I had to suppress a cold surge of cynicism, shake off a tingle of skepticism which made me want to see more than just fun … and agree.

THE APPLE WAR
Screenplay, Direction, and Production: Tage Danielsson, Hans Alfredsson. Cinematography: Lars Swanberg.
The Players: Hans Alfredsson, Monica Zetterlund, Birgitta Andersson, Gosta Ekman, Max von Sydow.

Copyright © 1974 Rick Hermann

Note: The Harvard Exit showing of The Apple War is the premiere American engagement of that Swedish film.