A writer investigates the suicide of a young woman. Eva Henning plays the role, in flashbacks, with a bone deep sadness. This quiet intensity allows men to paint their own fantasies upon her. Girl with Hyacinths has been called the lesbian Citizen Kane. (Possibly bisexual.) That’s technically a spoiler, though the film drops plenty of hints to an audience versed in queer coding. Writer/director/producer Hasse Ekman’s film was a cynical look at post-war Sweden. It remains a powerful noir.
Let’s look at some more spoilers in this recap. Trigger warning for discussions of depression and self-harm.
Act One: No Man
Scene One: A street in Stockholm
(A woman storms out of a party in despair. She stares over the edge of a bridge.)
BEGGAR: Don’t jump. No man is worth it.
DAGMAR (a musician): There is no MAN.
Scene Two: An Apartment Complex
POLICE: Your neighbor Dagmar killed herself. She left you her things.
ANDERS (a writer): Why? I didn’t know her.
BRITT (his wife): It’s a mystery.
Scene Three: Investigation
ANDERS: Why were you at the funeral?
BANKER: She was my daughter. I abandoned her. There was something strange about that girl.
ANDERS: Why did you divorce?
SOLDIER: I found love letters from Paris signed “Alex.” Dagmar said there was no other MAN but I couldn’t trust her. There was something unusual about that girl.
Act Two: Alex
Scene Four: Apartment Flashback
BRITT: I stopped Dagmar the first time she tried to kill herself. She said:
DAGMAR: Everyone leaves. If Alex lets me down, I’ll have no one left.
ANDERS: Why didn’t you tell me this before?
BRITT: It was none of your business.
Scene Five: The Investigation continues.
ANDERS: You painted her portrait?
ARTIST: Yes. Girl with Hyacinths. I should have called it Miss Lonely. We broke up because I’m an alcoholic. There was something peculiar about that girl.
ANDERS: You gave her your records?
SINGER: I give all the chicks my records. But that one wouldn’t sleep with me. There was something odd about…
BRITT: Enough! Don’t you get it?
ANDERS: Of course. These men broke her heart. None of them understood her like I do!
BRITT: Good grief.
Act Three: The Truth
Scene Six: Party Flashback
SINGER: I took Dagmar to a party. She ran into a friend there.
DAGMAR: How did you escape Paris?
MYSTERY WOMAN: I collaborated with the Germans. Don’t look at me like that. I had to survive.
DAGMAR: You’ve let me down.
MYSTERY WOMAN: Go to hell.
SINGER: Then the woman took me to the bedroom. And Dagmar ran out and offed herself. The poor girl must have been in love with me.
Scene Seven: Phone Call
ANDERS: So, Dagmar was a love struck ninny after all. Disappointing. I’d painted a much more interesting person in my head.
BRITT (On the phone): What was the other woman’s name?
SINGER: (On the phone): Alex.
ANDERS: Did he know her name?
BRITT: No. He’d forgotten it.
(Britt stares at the portrait of Dagmar.)
I’m of the hopeless kind, that asks too much of life and the people around me. I want them to be good, and real, and kind… and when they aren’t, I take it very badly.Dagmar, Girl with Hyacinths
No one understood Dagmar. The audience is given a chance to. My quick summary can’t do justice to the Ekman’s direction, clever camera work and social commentary. The scenes leading up to Dagmar’s death have a Hitchock-ian intensity. Swedish director Ingmar Bergman called Girl with Hyacinths “an absolute masterpiece.” It’s a shame the work is not more readily accessible today.
Sweden legalized same-sex activity in 1944 and has remained ahead of the curve on LGBT+ rights. Queer characters have appeared in Swedish cinema as far back as 1916’s Vingarne. Bergman himself would include them in three of his films, though all end tragically. It would take several decades for queer characters to find happy endings in the cinema.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling please contact The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).