A New Retrospective at MoMA: The Films of Hasse Ekman

Swedish filmmaker Hasse Ekman (1915-2004) had a long career both in front of and behind the camera. The son of legendary theater and film actor Gösta Ekman, Hasse Ekman carved own his niche in cinema, starting as an actor and then going on to direct 41 films (many of which were the products of his own original screenplays) between 1940 and 1964. He is now the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, which will be showing ten of his directorial efforts. (Last week I also had the opportunity to see a film in which both Hasse Ekman and his father appeared, the 1936 romantic drama Intermezzo, directed by Gustaf Molander and co-starring Ingrid Bergman.) Although Hasse Ekman’s work was overshadowed by the success of Ingmar Bergman during the same period, MoMA is resurrecting Ekman’s filmography for a new generation of moviegoers. Here is a look at some of the films that will be screening in the upcoming series.

The First Division (1941) – Sat. Sept. 12 at 7:30 pm and Mon. Sept. 14 at 4:00 pm – Famed Swedish actor Lars Hanson stars in this drama about World War II. Hanson’s name may be best known to American silent film buffs; he starred in a number of well-known MGM films, including The Scarlet Letter (1926) with Lillian Gish, Flesh and the Devil (1926) with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert and The Wind (1928) with Gish again, but Hanson worked in the Swedish film industry both before and after his time in Hollywood. Hasse Ekman also has a supporting role in The First Division.

The Banquet (1948) – Sat. Sept. 12 at 1:30 pm and Wed. Sept. 16 at 7:00 pm – Ekman and his wife at the time, Eva Henning, have supporting roles in this drama of complex family relations. Also featured in the cast is Birger Malmsten, who worked with Ingmar Bergman many times, including in It Rains on Our Love (1946), Thirst (1949), Secrets of Women (1952), The Silence (1963) and Face to Face (1976).

The Girl from the Third Row (1949) – Fri. Sept. 11 at 4:00 pm and Thurs. Sept. 17 at 4:00 pm – Ekman wrote this drama as a response to Ingmar Bergman’s 1949 film Prison (a film in which Ekman had an acting role) by exploring similar themes of life’s interconnectivity and theories of existentialism. Eva Henning plays “The Girl,” while Bergman regulars Gunnar BjörnstrandBarbro Hiort af Ornäs and Maj-Britt Nilsson, as well as Hasse Ekman, also play supporting roles.

Girl with Hyacinths (1950) – Wed. Sept. 9 at 7:00 pm and Fri. Sept. 18 at 7:00 pm – Ekman’s favorite among the films he directed, this drama tells the tale of a young woman (played by Eva Henning) who has committed suicide, and a host of her friends and family members look into the reasons why. The September 9 screening will be introduced by Hasse Ekman’s widow, Viveka, as well as by his daughter with Eva Henning, Fam Ekman.

Gabrielle (1954) – Sun. Sept. 13 at 2:00 pm and Fri. Sept. 18 at 4:00 pm – A romantic drama of infidelities and revenge, the title character is played by Eva Henning and the other two-thirds of the love triangle are played by Hasse Ekman and Birger Malmsten. Supporting actors in the film include Inga Tidblad (she played Ekman’s mother in Intermezzo two decades earlier), Karin Molander (wife of Lars Hanson) and Gunnar Björnstrand, while the black-and-white cinematography is by Gunnar Fischer, who shot many of Ingmar Bergman’s films between the late 1940s and the early 60s, such as Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957) and The Magician (1958).