- Exposing Vulnerability: Self-Mediation in Scandinavian Films by Women by Adriana Margareta Dancus
The slender measure of Adriana Margareta Dancus's new monograph Exposing Vulnerability: Self-Mediation in Scandinavian Films by Women belies the ambitious project presented between its two covers. Exposing Vulnerability opens by taking aim at recent perceptions of Scandinavia as predominantly a place of hygge, a misconception that either implicitly or explicitly bolsters utopian notions of Scandinavian exceptionalism. Dancus analyzes seven Norwegian and Swedish feature films from 2009 to 2016, all directed by or featuring women filmmakers who paint a more nuanced, if darker picture of the region. These films are Flink pike (2014; Good Girl) by Solveig Melkeraaen; Brødre (2015; Brothers) by Aslaug Holm; Återträffen (2013; The Reunion) by Anna Odell; Idas dagbok (2014; Ida's Diary) by August Hanssen; Min mors hemmelighet (2009; Suddenly Sami) by Ellen-Astri Lundby; Familiebildet (2013; My Family Portrait) by Yvonne Thomassen; and Skörheten (2016; Fragility) by Ahang Bashi. These films revolve around different practices of self-representation, highlighting mental health issues, structural racism, the traumas of migration, and bullying, as well as the detrimental effects that the social pressure to be happy can have on people, and on women in particular.
The key questions guiding the study ask how vulnerability is imagined and staged, and how these filmed vulnerabilities then operate in the public sphere where they have political and ethical stakes. Formally, the films that [End Page 539] constitute Dancus's archive employ variations of what she calls, drawing on work by Alisa Lebow, "first person cinema," a cinematic form that blends elements of documentary and autobiography but emphasizes a mode of address rather than a genre. In other words, first person cinema can be singular and plural; the "I" is always implicitly intertwined with a "we," meaning that filmed representations of self are also necessarily relational. Exposing Vulnerability aims to expand the discussion of first person cinema in two ways: by gendering the "I" as female and by illuminating its Scandinavian inflections. Exposing Vulnerability thus gives this archive the scholarly attention it deserves but has yet to receive—whether because international scholars of women's cinema typically overlook the Scandinavian context, or because women directors still, lamentably, remain in the minority in both the Swedish and Norwegian film industries. Dancus brings the contributions of this geographically specific context to bear on ongoing conversations that resonate beyond the Scandinavian region, while she also introduces theory from other international contexts to the Scandinavian context.
Generally speaking, Dancus dedicates each chapter of Exposing Vulnerability to a single film, although two chapters make comparative arguments about two or more films. This structure would make the book easy to incorporate either into an upper division undergraduate course or into a graduate seminar on contemporary Nordic cinema in which one of these films was being discussed. (I assigned a chapter in a recent graduate seminar.) The book is written in language that will be accessible to a range of students. Methodologically, Exposing Vulnerability seeks to illuminate the phenomenon of self-mediation in these films by means of insightful case studies and close readings rather than by broad, abstract brushstrokes. At the same time, Dancus does also include a substantial amount of contextualizing information for each film. This will certainly aid students who are less familiar with the institutional landscape of Scandinavian film industries. (This move also, I think, reflects current scholarly emphasis on production studies.) Chapters can also include statistics and sociological data about topics such as migration, self-harm, and bullying, and so forth.
As a Scandinavianist working in the American academy, I consume Dancus's scholarship voraciously as it always leaves me with the impression that she has her finger on the pulse of contemporary cinema in the region. Exposing Vulnerability is typical of Dancus's creative capacity to bring a diverse collection of theoretical approaches into conversation with an intriguing archive of films. It is inspiring work. The strength of a [End Page 540] book like this, which seeks to pull so many different strands...