Stereotypes is a captivating documentary about the necessity of communication across boundaries of age, nationality and gender.
It is simultaneously intimate and expansive: at its centre is a loving couple, the Swedish-born Anna Anderson and the American-born Jordan Battiste, who decide to document their trip from New Jersey back to her homeland for a wedding, and, in the process, ruminate on cultural heritage and geo-cultural relations. Insightful interviews with members of the public from both nations reveal great insights about the position that both the U.S. and Sweden hold in the popular imagination. The wide ranging topics of interest include celebrity, superstition, gun regulation, technology, economics, language and architecture.
Although the film is infused with gentle humour in regards to the way one nation stereotypes the other, its primary motivation is a desire to locate the commonalities between these two countries and to promote empathy, warmth and tolerance. Much of the film is devoted to lyrical observations of Swedish cultural rituals, breaking down previously established stereotypes of the land and enabling the viewer to build a greater understanding of the land, its history, its folklore and its customs.
With its travelogue structure, mesmerizing black-and-white photography, and keen attention to the potentialities of on-the-street interviews, Stereotypes recalls the early documentaries of Pasolini; its contrapuntal editing puts perspectives, landscapes, and voices from the two countries together in dialectical exchange for the purpose of conflict and comparison: the rich monarchical history of Sweden versus the comparatively new settlement of the United States; the United States’ overwhelming dominance over contemporary cinema versus the more localized culture industry of Sweden; the dense folkoric mythology that defines Swedish childhood versus America’s emphasis on figures from popular television and advertising.
Stereotypes avoids making easy value judgements on any of its subjects, it is instead an immersion in the various ideologies, artistic products, traditions and attitudes which define a nation. Eschewing simple didacticism in favour of open-ended enquiry, Stereotypes weaves a dense and multifaceted tapestry of impressions, masterfully intertwining the personal, the historical, the aesthetic, and the political.
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