Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2018: "Becoming Astrid"

Michael Hayward

Astrid Lindgren was one of the most successful writers of literature for children in the 20th century (according to Wikipedia, Lindgren has sold roughly 165 million books worldwide). Pippi Longstocking was the most famous of her characters, a strong-willed girl with red pigtails, the daughter of a buccaneer captain, who brought her up on board his ship. Pippi may lack social graces but she is kind, and smart, and very strong.

Becoming Astrid is billed as a biopic of Lindgren's early years, so you go in expecting a film that shows how a famous children's author becomes an author. Such a film would focus on the early rejections, the budding writer's persistence in the face of these rejections, and would culminate in an uplifting sequence in which the world at large finally discovers the genius in their midst.

There would be at least one scene of a typewriter, and blank sheets of paper gradually getting covered with rows of black letters; there would be a wide shot showing the budding writer hard at work, in which we could just make out, across the room from the budding writer's desk, a wastebasket. This would be followed by a closeup of the wastebasket, showing it surrounded by crumpled balls of paper.

It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Becoming Astrid is not that kind of biopic (though yes: there is a scene involving a typewriter). Instead, Becoming Astrid is the story of an attractive and energetic young woman in 1920s rural Sweden, who chafes at the restrictions of life in a large family, raised by strict parents. At her first job (intern for the editor of the local newspaper) she makes the somewhat rash decision to sleep with her boss: an unhappily married (of course!) older man of about her own father's age.

Some of the usual consequences ensue: Astrid gets pregnant; her parents find out; the father of the baby (her boss) has trouble securing his divorce; Astrid wrestles with the decision of whether to raise her son herself, or to give him up to a foster mother. In fact the film, at times, teeters on the brink of a different set of clichés. It is saved by Alba August's brisk performance as Astrid, and by an immersive recreation of the era.

Towards the end of Becoming Astrid, Astrid meets a kind young man at her workplace, who insists that she go home to care for her sick young son. A few scenes later she refers to him as Mr Lindgren. Ah! This is the fateful encounter the film has been building towards: Astrid is about to acquire her surname (what is not stated in the film is that this kind young man is Astrid's employer, and that he is already married; a case of déja vu all over again).

There are no further screenings of Becoming Astrid at this year's VIFF, but the trailer can be viewed here.



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