Becoming Astrid (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): Before she becomes a writer

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Swedish film “Becoming Astrid” focuses on the early years of Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), a Swedish writer who has been known well for her many famous children’s book series such the one featuring Pipi Longstocking. I must confess that I am not that familiar with her works (I only know a bit about Pipi Longstocking, who is known in South Korea as ‘Romping Pipi’), but I can say at least that the movie is an engaging drama coupled with some insights on how Lindren’s life experiences inspired her works, and I can also assure you that you will enjoy it even if you are not that knowledgeable about Lindgren’s life and career.

After the opening scene where old Astrid in her last stage of her life is reading a bunch of letters from many young fans congratulating on her birthday, the movie instantly flashes back to her early years. She grew up under her stern parents along with several siblings in her rural hometown, and it is clear from the first scene showing her younger self, played by Alba August at this point, that she is not someone who will easily conform to custom and authority like many others around her. For example, after hearing a local vicar’s sermon on Sodom and Gomorrah, she instantly makes an amusing catch phrase (“Good Morning, Soda!”), and her parents are definitely not so pleased about that, though they are mostly caring and loving to their children despite their puritanical sternness.

Because of her considerable talent in writing, Astrid’s father has her work for Reinhold Blomberg (Henrik Rafaelsen), the editor of a local newspaper. Right from her first day in Blomberg’s office, something clicks between them as they do some playful wordplay, and Blomberg willingly helps Astrid advance further with her writing talent. At first, she mainly handles proofreading and miscellaneous short articles, but then she comes to work as a reporter, and we soon see her at a local train station for covering a newly installed railroad line.

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In the meantime, she finds herself quite more attracted to Blomberg than before. When she actively attempts to get closer to him, Blomberg initially hesitates mainly because he is a married man currently going through a very difficult divorce process, but then he eventually begins a secret affair with her, and, not so surprisingly, Astrid discovers on one day that she is pregnant. Blomberg wants to do what is the best for Astrid and their child, but he is also afraid of going to jail for adultery (Yes, adultery was considered as a crime in Sweden during the 1920s), so he wants to handle this matter as quietly as possible – and so do her parents, who are quite worried about whether their daughter’s pregnancy will tarnish their reputation.

It is decided that Astrid should be sent to Stockholm for not only taking a training course for secretaries but also covering up her pregnancy from others in hometown, and she follows that decision without protest as discerning that is the best option for her and her child. Not long after settling in Stockholm, she hears about unmarried pregnant women going to Copenhagen, Denmark for giving birth to their children in anonymity, so she subsequently goes to Copenhagen and then gives birth to her son, whom she has to leave under foster care in Copenhagen as he can be a definite living proof of Blomberg’s adultery.

While missing her young son more as time goes by, Astrid also becomes more frustrated with her lover, who is rather passive as mostly concerned about whether he will get caught for his adultery. Despite their caution, his adultery comes to be exposed in the end, but then it turns out that there was not much problem for him from the beginning, and his casual attitude to this makes Astrid think more serious about whether she loves him – and whether she can really live with him and his children for the rest of her life.

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Although she is well aware of how difficult life can be for a single mother, Astrid decides to leave Blomberg and raise her son alone, but she soon faces her hard reality. Quite getting used to his foster mother, her son becomes awkward and sullen after he comes to live with her in their new place, and Astrid often feels helpless as not knowing what to do with her son – until there later comes an unexpected act of kindness from her boss.

Occasionally making indirect observations on Lindgren’s life and works via a series of comments from her young fans, the screenplay by director Pernille Fischer Christensen and her co-writer Kim Fupz Aakeson, gives us sensitive and intimate moments to be admired for mood and storytelling, and it surely helps that the movie is held up well together by August, who is terrific as a strong, intelligent woman who comes to find her will and strength as struggling with many difficulties in her life. August is also supported well by several fine supporting performers including Henrik Rafaelsen, Maria Bonnevie, Magnus Krepper, and Trine Dyrholm, and Dyrholm is particularly wonderful during a scene where her character thoughtfully consoles Astrid after Astrid becomes depressed by the gap between her and her son.

Overall, “Becoming Astrid” has enough mood, personality, and substance to hold our attention, and it did a solid job of presenting to us a plain but crucial part of Lindgren’s life. After watching this entertaining film, you may be more interested in Lindgren’s works, and you may come to agree to the comment from one of her young fans: “So many people die in your books, but, when I read them, I just want to live.”

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