I’m trying not to gush. I know you want actual details, reasons, logic, things that make sense. But really, is falling in love ever sensible? Can you actually explain the rush of endorphins, the giddy glow, the crazed enthusiasm that makes your friends say “slow down dude, back on the planet, who is this now?”
And that’s my dilemma in explaining my ongoing crush on the lovely, entrancing, intriguing, multilayered and ultimately satisfying Swedish series known in the U.S. as The Restaurant (Vår Tid är Nu in Swedish – which translates as “Our Time is Now”).
Comparisons to Downton Abbey abound in reviews, if only to give the sense of compelling story, fascinating characterizations, and an up and down rags with riches love story with a teary payoff at the end.
I’m also trying not to make this whole review a paean to lead actress Hedda Stiernstedt. So let’s get back to her later by talking first about what a delightful thing it is to look through the fourth wall in a drama set in what is after all an alien culture – life in Sweden from about 1945 to 1968, over the whole stretch of the series.
To say that we here in the US are ignorant of Swedish history and culture is obvious. So, to be dropped by the first show into a spontaneous street celebration at the end of World War II is to significantly travel in time, location and cultural references. Sweden, for example, was neutral during WWII, and the stain of who cooperated or not colors the early episodes. And who knew there were so many Swedish songs that “everyone knows.”
The core story has a commercial restaurant at its center, and features the personal dramas of the restaurant owner family and staff, and various entanglements between them, all in the context of social changes over a period of twenty years or so. Those episodes of course echo the same events in U.S. culture, but seeing it all through a Swedish lens is both refreshing and illumnating.
The show is not without concerning elements, such as the uncanny resistance of the main characters to any form of aging, even though their children grow up and move away. In addition, issues of homosexuality are fraught with more shame than we currently are burdened with – but that is simply an accurate portrayal of the times. And there are characters that you originally think are the good guys who mysteriously degrade before your eyes.
But to come back to Hedda Stiernstedt, who plays the role of Nina, the restaurant owner’s daughter, I can only say that, in addition to an unforgettably lovely face, Hedda is the most believable cryer in the history of film. And by cryer I mean she convincingly depicts deeply emotional states.
It’s not just tears, of course, but be alerted – there are real actors in Sweden, and if you are not in love with Nina by the end of this movie and even more enamored with the love story of which she is only half, you may need a heart transplant.
Don’t miss it. I’m begging you. You’re going to thank me on this one. On Amazon Prime. If you can, watch season 4 after season 1 (they did an extra season, but it interleaves chronologically between 1 and 2).