That the personal is political is acknowledged by plenty, but seldom in the way, it’s portrayed in Red Winter.
Taking place in 1970s Sweden as the Social Democrats find themselves on the wane, Anneli Furmark focuses this broader trend on a love affair between Siv, married and mother of three, with the much younger Ulrik. Siv’s political concerns, if she has any directly, focus on the well-being of her family — in other words, she’s a regular person with the usual concerns.
Ulrik is part of a communist party enclave that has arrived in town to take control of the local steelworker’s union. The passions of his age are in contrast to the settled quality of Siv’s, and his political commitments are what might divide them if they weren’t so busy brushing aside their importance in the context of their relationship.
It’s hard to say that Siv is unhappy with her life, at least in contrast with anyone else in the town living a similar experience. She’s been dissatisfied but has gone down the only path made available to her. Without a fork in the road that might have been taken, there isn’t much opportunity to point out what went wrong. Everything went right, in fact, but to Siv, it doesn’t register that way.
Furmark also spends time with various members of Siv’s family, devoting sections to each, particularly her son Peter, who functions as the personification of his mother’s dissatisfaction and alienation from her surroundings. With nothing ahead of him but steelwork like his father, Peter is stuck in a cycle with his friends where he doesn’t feel a closeness, yet any abandonment cuts him. There’s nothing to cling to.
That’s certainly the case for Siv’s daughter, who wanders through the day on her own, everyone else in family preoccupied with their internal battles.
Siv’s husband, Borje, is the representation of everything that Ulrik and his friends are battling, Social Democrat clinging to the current structure and sneering at anything that might want to disrupt it. But in his tirade to Siv, he might have a point, in that he paints the Communists as reckless without having a clue about the present they are infiltrating or the future they think they want. Isn’t that exactly how Ulrik is approaching his affair with Siv? And isn’t that an indication that the way you approach the political has much in common with the way you approach the personal?
Furmark renders her story with a philosophical air, pushed forth by plenty of confessionary dialogue and self-examination, amidst the dark beauty of her artwork that offers a dark world of winter that hidden affairs can exist in as safe secrets protected by isolation.
But if the political can sometimes seem earth-shattering, Furmark’s conclusion brings it down to earth entirely. Bypassing the cataclysms inherent in the drama, she drives home that the only thing that matters about the political is how it affects the personal. It’s the same for everyone, and it’s the one way we can take the political and make it something emotionally manageable.
Journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. Author of ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. My latest children’s books are ‘Gorilla Gardener: How To Help Nature Take Over The World’ and ‘We Say NO: A Child’s Guide To Resistance.’