Fem trappor (Five Flights of Stairs)

Niels Weisberg

Hanna Andersson's Fem trappor is an endearing little film about a sick old woman, Greta, who is carried down five flights of stairs by two paramedics while caressingly letting her hand glide down the banister and recalling an old memory from 50 years earlier when she and a man whom she had probably just met caressed each other while walking up the same stairs until finally throwing themselves at one another in the hall of her flat.

And is it not refreshing to watch a fictional film, no matter how short, where the main character is 90 years old!

The story is told with extensive use of cross cutting and match cuts, and structured on oppositions such as the upwards/downwards movement, focused/unfocused shots, and naturally the most important opposition: the past/the present, the very raison d'Ítre of the film.

While the story of the present is one long movement down the stairs until Greta is carried out of the main door into an uncertain future, and the picture dissolves into white (a bright future/death/a belated symbol of orgasm, seeing that the intercourse of the past ended in black?), the story of the past has the opposite movement up the stairs.

We observe two young people arriving at the main door, separated by two small windows in the door, and while ascending the stairs they touch more and more urgently - and more and more intimately - until they are finally united in the hall.

The sexual overture is filmed not only with an objectively observing camera but also through subjective shots, primarily from the man's p.o.v. Early in the ascent there is a subjective tilt down Greta's body from her head to her shoe (beautifully matched by the opposite tilt up to the old woman's face on the stretcher, which is the opening shot of the film), and the motif of the shoe recurs when the couple hide from the neighbour girl (what the man is doing with the shoe is unclear - does he want to take her shoes off so that they can proceed on tiptoe?). Later on he lifts her skirt (another subjective p.o.v.) only later to cup his hand around one of her breasts (graphically matched by the oxygen mask in the present). And there is yet another graphical match cut of the old woman caressing the round knob on the banister and the young woman caressing the man's head.

The film has no dialogue apart from the fact that the woman's name Greta is uttered three times. The soundtrack starts with real sound: at the beginning the telephone conversation of the paramedics (while the camera tilts up towards her face and only then focuses). In the next unfocused shot (seen from Greta's p.o.v.), one of the paramedics says the word Greta while shining a light into her eye, looking for signs of life. After this the title is shown on a black background while her almost inaudible breathing is heard. And in a new unfocused shot the real sound has disappeared, replaced by silence, and Greta's name is heard again, this time more softly - and maybe uttered by a different male voice - and there is a cut to the past/the memory where the young man and woman appear behind the window panes (as mentioned above) and the woman's name is said for the third time - even more softly, but now quite distinguishable as a voice-over. From this point on, there is music for the rest of the short apart from the few scenes where suspense is building: they hear the neighbour girl opening the door and walking down the stairs while they hide and remain silent - and now that they are out of danger, the music develops into a crescendo during the scene of the intercourse.

Much care has gone into details in this thoroughly and lovingly worked out short, and yet I should like to raise three objections, or rather questions to the director.

The shot of the key before opening the door of the flat is obviously meant to show their urgency and impatience, and the symbolic key/keyhole metaphorically matches the penetration itself very nicely - but is the shot not "overkill"?

The scenes on the stairs are often filmed in extreme low or high angles because of the natural differences in levels, but why has the concluding scene of the intercourse in the past been shot directly above the two characters? The shot starts with the left diagonal half of the frame in black due to the position of the camera right above the studio-set wall; the camera continues its half circular movement above the couple's heads, and the shot ends with the other diagonal half of the frame in black - a beautifully controlled camera movement in itself and so to speak matching itself - but is the well-known Godard dictum that every camera angle is a question of morals no longer valid at Swedish film schools? Or is the point that an old woman lying alone and horizontally on a stretcher is to be contrasted to a young couple's vertical intercourse, filmed vertically above their heads?

And thirdly: the synopsis states, "While being carried away by paramedics 90-year-old Greta recalls her most cherished memory." All people recall memories and daydreams, but in doing so one principally "sees" other persons and not primarily oneself. Greta may be a narcissist, of course, and therefore have dreams of herself, but to my mind the story is clearly one of masculine desire, focused on the woman's body, seen from the man's p.o.v. Rather than a recalled memory the short is thus a staged fictional scene probably based on a memory.

Who would believe an old woman - and sick at that - to spin such a yarn!

PS: The film never clearly demonstrates how many flights of stairs there are in the building - perhaps only 3 or 4. The title "Fem trappor" (Five Flights of Stairs) may be a reference to Elias Sehlstedt's famous song, "Fem trapper opp," from about 1870, about a lonely writer in his humble abode in the attic.

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