Future Frames 2017 Review: Schoolyard Blues

The trials and tribulations of growing up are a well-worn subject for cinematic depiction. Whether it be the travails of Antoine Doniel in The 400 Blows or Richard Linklater’s epic Boyhood, “Growing up is so very hard to do,” to spin the lyrics of Neil Sedaka’s classic song. Swedish director Maria Eriksson gives the genre a breath of fresh air in her often heartbreaking Schoolyard Blues.

It is John’s first day of school. His 11-year-old brother Mika turns up to help his younger sibling negotiate this most important of days. It soon becomes clear that John and Mika have been split apart and Mika should not be hanging around with his brother. But Mika is determined to impart the important advice that John will need to survive. As he lectures John about bullying, the importance of having a shower and everything else important for a young boy, Mika fulfils a father figure role. But as John heads to the classroom it becomes apparent that this may be only a fleeting encounter between the two.

Eriksson juxtaposes the freedom that is meant to typify childhood with the enforced role of father figure that John finds himself in. It keeps exposition to the background – the reason that John and Mika have been split apart is only hinted at – and instead focuses on immediacy and the childhood urge to keep moving forward without thinking about the past. As they traipse through sun drenched forests, there is hint of the idyllic life that children deserve to live. But this is only brief as Mika is still forced to take on an elder role for the good of his brother.

Yet for all Mika’s attempts to be the ‘grown man’ there are glimpses of the carefree child he wishes to be (and the role he wants his younger brother to fulfil). A final gesture of giving his brother recorded messages full of useful information is both achingly sensible yet gloriously youthful in its outlook. But his final words to John seem to indicate that he knows his childhood is over and it only his younger brother who has the chance of any redemption. As sad as John and Mika’s final moment are, the film ends on a moment of hope as John behaves naively at his new class. Rather than a cause for embarrassment this naivety suggests that John still may be able to live life as a child - at least a little bit longer.

The performances from Douglas Steyner and Olle Frelin in the lead roles, both unselfconscious and fizzing with energy. Eriksson deserves much praise for helping to elicit said performances which give the film much of its emotional punch. The cinematography from Erik Molberg Hansen also deserves kudos as the film shifts from claustrophobic  interiors to the freedom offered by the outside world.

Schoolyard Blues will have it’s European Premiere as part European Film Promotion’s Future Frames at Karlovy Vary. It looks certain to be a festival hit whilst Eriksson’s future projects – which may also involve young children – will be eagerly awaited.

You can read an interview with Maria Eriksson HERE

Film Information

Original Title:  Skolstartssorg

English Title: Schoolyard Blues

Director: Maria Eriksson

Country: Sweden

Year: 2016

Run Time: 17 mins

Contact: Swedish Film Institute, uof@sfi.se

02 July 2017, by Laurence Boyce