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Film Review: Long Live Little Märta (Fram För Lilla Märta Eller På Livets Ödesvägar)
by Marinell Haegelin

Hasse Ekman, Sweden 1945

Swedish writer-director-actor Hasse Ekman’s whimsical comedy confidently combines, utilizing farce and slapstick in choreographed confusion, an array of issues: hetero- and homosexuality, thinly disguised misogyny, women’s liberation and politics, and behavioral conventions of the day. Longtime friends Kurre Swenson (Hasse Ekman) and Sture Letterström (Stig Järrel) get a financially fruitful wake-up call. A royalty payment for the songwriter; feeling anxious, Sture combs through the newspaper wanted ads. Finding one for a summer gig, the out-of-work musician’s excitement deflates realizing it’s for a female cellist. Kurre conceives of and hatches the Märta Letterström persona portraying himself as her fiancée. Their interview’s good, if not bumbling, with the other musicians, Inga (Elsie Albiin) and Barbro Bergström (Agneta Lagerfelt). Ransacking Kurre’s mama’s wardrobe, Sture practices ladylike walking and mannerisms.

When the band arrives at the small-town hotel the owner states its absolute employee rules; the sisters share the big bedroom and Märta takes the little one. Onstage, Märta/Sture immediately attracts an admirer, experiences sexual harassment firsthand getting into hot water with the owner. She observes to Kurre, “she’s quite a handful,” who comments, “After living together for 10 years I’m used to it.” Raised eyebrow. The mayor’s wife (Gull Natorp) invites Märta to coffee for rescuing her hat; what an eyeopener witnessing her obsequiousness toward the ungracious, domineering mayor. Märta’s natural inclinations often get the best of him, e.g., the mayor’s naughty adolescent son, one of nine children, aims his peashooter at Märta’s back. Sharp-witted to young boys’ tomfoolery, Märta lures him into arm’s reach then unhesitating rubs cake in the kid’s face…sweet poetic justice.

Attending a Women’s Meeting with Mrs. Granlund, Märta/Sture’s affability is contagious; unwittingly she becomes their candidate for parliament. Feisty Miss Wiklund (Margit Andelius) is campaign organizer, the campaign’s heated between Märta and Mayor Granlund, and she’s victorious. Once the legislative body meets, although unprepared Märta’s memory is sound and her impassioned speech for women’s equality receives a resoundingly seconding to her resolution. Kurre, meanwhile, besotted with Barbro, has been clandestinely pursuing her. Finally free after Märta’s fatal accident, Sture concentrates on more important things… wooing Inga.

Ekman’s screenplay with its quick-fire repartee, inuendoes, puns and still contemporary narrative in the hands of outstanding comedic actors whose impeccable timing and delivery are noteworthy. Crossdressing is not for the weak of heart.

Supported by cinefest—International Festival of German Film Heritage, it’s worth noting Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic, SOME LIKE IT HOT debuted 14 years later in the US. Its storyline includes a female ban and two men crossdressing for—in this case—personal survival. Hmm.