Becoming Astrid, 2018.
Directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen.
Starring Alba August, Trine Dyrholm, Maria Bonnevie, Björn Gustafson, Magnus Krepper, Henrik Rafaelsen, and Maria Fahl Vikander.
Biopic of Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren, the author of numerous children’s books and creator of Pippi Longstocking.
Sometimes the best way to celebrate an artist is to show why they embarked on that path rather than how it all happened, footnote after footnote. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen (also a co-writer alongside Kim Fupz Aakeson), Becoming Astrid centers on the late teenage/early adulthood years of Astrid Lindgren (the name might not be familiar to all, but surely most readers will recognize her creation Pippi Longstocking), a series of tumultuous events that alienated the Swedish girl from her religious family and forced her to give up her son upon birth to a loving foster mother (played with affection and wisdom by Trine Dyrholm) in order to hide the guiltiness of her then-boyfriend and almost divorced editor Blomberg (Henrik Rafaelsen, who is surprisingly not made out to be 100% terrible, even if he is a somewhat advantageous and unlikable person), as him being found out as an adulterer could potentially cause him to face jail time.
As one would expect, Becoming Astrid is Alba August’s film, delivering a powerful breakthrough performance embodying a never give up attitude no matter how bleak her situation gets romantically, financially, between her family, and most importantly, motherhood. When she is first brought in to the writing room, there is elation when she presses the typewriter keys for the first time, as if she has already found her calling without necessarily knowing it yet. That smile and happiness coupled with her carefree personality are visibly sucked away as Blomberg’s trial is repeatedly extended, shame from her parents increases, and time away from her son adds up to the point where she has to seriously consider whether it’s best to raise the child when all is said and done or if he is best staying with his foster mother.
Throughout these hardships are occasional narrations from children shown to be fan mail delivered to Astrid during the 1980s, and for a film that mostly conforms to your standard biopic structure and tone, it’s a wise creative decision that allows for the expression of the themes she often wrote about in her children’s novels to meaningfully manifest within the movie. The words from these kids never really feel too on-the-nose, walking a fine line between relevant to the film’s narrative and informing why Astrid would go on to write something similar. It’s a genuine portrayal of life shaping art, and one of the most clever uses of the narration framing device in quite some time.
Still, the real reason the film works (aside from talented women telling this harrowing origin story of one of the world’s most celebrated author’s and a trail-blazing feminist in her own right, way ahead of her time with her unbreakable resilience and independence) is Alba August; she is superb at gradually selling the mounting psychological and physical trauma. The film goes further than your typical strongly acted crying moments and brief glimpses of mental weakness, but also what I would assume to be a physically painful experience of tightly wrapping up her breasts so no visible milk is produced, as if the locals back home found out about her out of wedlock childbirth, it would spell disaster for her parents that have a heavy hand in the church. It’s the kind of authentic portrayal of this humiliation that female filmmakers probably know how to sensitively put to screen versus a man who might exclude something like that from the film altogether purely from a lack of experience. Stories about pioneering women by accomplished women; what a wonderful thing.
Best of all, Becoming Astrid finds an engaging and completely organic manner of foretelling how outstanding and resonant with children a writer she would become. It’s a scene that sums up everything you need to know without resorting to genre clichés. There’s more than enough good ideas on display here to save this from ending up a flat and traditional biopic; Alba August is an actor to watch out for, landing the required emotional range from taking every punch and kick in stride, persevering and overcoming multiple obstacles for the happiest of happy endings, but a happy ending that feels entirely earned and deserved. As the beautiful ending credits song played, I almost wanted to start writing my own gratefully supportive letter to Astrid Lindgren
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com