Stockholm-born filmmaker, stage director and screenwriter Suzanne Osten’s passionately recounted, socially charged and penetratingly shrewd films undoubtedly show their origins in the auteur’s intriguing family background which colours her oeuvre with sensitive yet perspicuous social commentary. Born to Karl Otto Osten, a toolmaker and social democrat Swedish émigré who fled Nazi Germany and director-writer Gerd Osten, the second generation filmmaker’s debut feature film, Mamma (1982), precisely depicts her mother’s vexing efforts attempting to direct a film in the unequivocally male-dominated film industry.
Osten began pursing her directorial ambitions while studying art, literature and history at Sweden’s prestigious Lund University, where she became involved with the university’s theatre. In the professional arena, the filmic neophyte embarked on her directorial career by forging her path in the sphere of theatre, burgeoning as a stage director in the late 1960s before emerging as a vanguard figure in the development of political theatre. One of Osten’s first socially-charged plays, Girl Talk (1971) – co-written with Margareta Garp – featured a string of feminist anthems in its teenage girl-oriented narrative. In fact, all of Osten’s plays on which she collaborated with Garpe distinctly echo Swedish feminist collective, Group 8.
In the late 1970s, Osten made the stark transition from the stage to the big screen while retaining her insightful, politically-leaning narrative approach, commencing by directing The Mozart Brothers (1986), a riotous comedy centring on the dysfunctional relationships which unfold among the members of a dedicated theatre ensemble, as they embark on a new project: an experimental interpretation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. From the director’s obsessive ardour to the art director’s unconventional visions and the acting coach’s idiosyncrasies, the theatre’s odd-ball adherents vigorously and unceasingly clash with one another, whether it be due to objections with the production, the director’s overbearing concupiscence or their endless difficulties in conducting a smooth rehearsal – an imaginatively witty drama for which the auteur won the award for Best Director at Sweden’s Guldbagge Awards.
Two years later, the release of Osten’s unconventional, topsy-turvy film, Lethal Film (1988), offered audiences a refreshing meta-narrative in its portrayal of an ordinary group of film enthusiasts who produce cinematic horror special effects, subsequently experiencing extraordinary circumstances as life begins to mirror art in a terrifying manner. Osten’s eclectic predilections are demonstrated in her later decision to take the directorial lead in the quasi-historical yet wholly fictionalised, early 20th century political drama, The Guardian Angel (1990), set in a fictionalised country yet revolving on a series of familiar political upheavals which originate in the penetrating dissatisfaction of rioting students. Osten’s superb writing was celebrated at the European Film Awards with a nomination for European Screenwriter of the Year, shared with the film’s other co-writers, Etienne Glaser and Madeleine Gustafsson.
Subsequently, Osten’s Speak Up! It’s So Dark… (1993) presented a starkly more explicit political narrative than its predecessor, by boldly implanting itself in one of the modern history’s most tormented ethno-political conflicts. The provokingly raw and unabashed drama follows the curious relationship between elderly Jewish psychiatrist, Jacob (Etienne Glaser) and young Nazi skinhead, Soren (Simon Norrthon), who encounter one another on a train after Soren is injured taking part in a neo-Nazi demonstration; gradually engaging in a series of conversations, the men begin to better understand one another. After returning the following year with the stunning drama, Just You and Me, Osten’s provocatively off-kilter, psychological thriller, Bengbulan (1996), further reeled in audiences with its curious melange of a prepubescent ensemble and glaringly old-school horror-infused shocks.
At the turn-of-the-decade, Osten deviated from her characteristic dramas to the documentary genre with Difficult People (2001), a transposition of her namesake play to the filmic sphere in its examination of the real individuals on whom the play’s characters are based. Osten returned to her fictive narratives with the tender romantic drama, Welcome to Verona (2006), chronicling the relationship between Walter (Jan Malmsjö) and Virginia (Ghita Nørby), which flourishes in a sanatorium for those on the later side of middle aged after Walter attempts to seduce his love-interest by directing a unique performance of Romeo and Juliet, starring the sanatorium’s residents. Afterward, Osten took a decade-long break from her directorial duties before returning last year with The Girl, the Mother and the Demons, a gripping thriller that places a lens on the strained dynamic between psychologically troubled single mother, Siri (Maria Sundbom) and her young daughter, Ti (Esther Quigley), who is apportioned significant responsibility for her age by having to deal with her mother’s mercurial mental state.
Set for release next year is Osten’s latest projection which is currently in pre-production, Sixty-Four Minutes with Rebecka, itself based on a screenplay written by Ingmar Bergman in the mid-60s, which Bergman originally wrote with the intention of collaborating on the film with Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa. The film has already endured quite the attention-grabbing history with its near-misses at resuscitation with the death of three filmmakers. Now in the process of being revived by Osten, it is sure to captivate audiences as the 11th film of Osten’s eclectic filmic oeuvre.