The “1967 In Film” Blogathon: I Am Curious (Yellow)

I+Am+Curious+(Yellow+Matrix)+_sRGB_400One of the most controversial and scandalous films of 1967, I Am Curious (Yellow) follows a multi-layered narrative, structured as a film within a film. The film’s synopsis is as follows:

Lena, aged twenty, wants to know all she can about life and reality. She collects information on everyone and everything, storing her findings in an enormous archive. She experiments with relationships, political activism, and meditation. Meanwhile, the actors, director and crew are shown in a humorous parallel plot about the making of the film and their reactions to the story and each other. Nudity, explicit sex, and controversial politics kept this film from being shown in the US while its seizure by Customs was appealed.

The film begins by informing the viewers that this is a film of two parts – I Am Curious (Yellow) is followed up by I Am Curious (Blue), which was released in 1968 and was initially meant to be combined with this one to form a three and a half hour long masterpiece; the combination of colours being representative of the Swedish flag. Lena Nyman, our heroine, and Vilgot Sjöman, the director of the film, shout out at the viewers to buy the film and watch the second one, since it’s the only film ever made in two parts! I have to say that this was probably the perfect way to begin the film, because it sets the viewer up for the strange experiences that are to follow in terms of the film-within-a-film construction. For example, when one of the ‘actors’ fumbles a line, Vilgot as the director will call out the correct phrasing, then the crew will start the scene again and the film will continue as usual. Or, when Lena is having trouble perfecting a yoga pose, we return to behind the camera to watch the crew attempt the pose as well. It’s a strange and humorous experience, but an entirely unique one as well.

Lena Nyman shines in this film, as the 22 year old film student starring in a film, who’s in a relationship with her director outside of the film, and also as the young activist continually on protest within the film. In her interviews with random people on the street – which range from topics such as class structure in Sweden, to the Spanish civil war, to womens’ rights – she shows so much passion that it almost overshadows her love scenes with her paramour, Börje (Börje Ahlstedt). She shows a stunning amount of complexity as a character-within-a-character, in a film-within-a-film, where she’s trying to free herself from the social expectations of intimacy between men and women, but also can’t help but become jealous when her lovers become interested in other women. Lena is portrayed as a full and dynamic human being with flaws, desires, contradictions and complexities, and is supremely watchable.

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The editing of I Am Curious (Yellow) is quite choppy and abstract, with a lot of jump cuts, although the parallel stories are quite linear (even though they do intersect at points). The film is shot in black and white, and had some incredibly beautiful use of light and cinematography that reminded me of some of the French New Wave films. The creative elements all unite to form a film that is just as complex as its protagonist. For example, occasionally when one of the interviewees on the street says a key term such as ‘sabotage’ or ‘fraternity’, that word will flash up on the screen in big white letters, although we’re never told why. This results in the political overtones being enhanced, reminding the viewer that these are the categories of issues that young people were facing in the late 60s in Sweden. The overall feeling I got from this film after I finished watching was similar to my reaction to Daisies (1966) – bewilderment and awe at the visuals, and a massive amount of respect that the film was able to so bluntly display its raw sexuality and political ideals.

It goes without saying that there are many sex scenes and a lot of nudity in this film. However, it also must be noted that at no point does the sex or nudity look pornographic or exploitative. It’s always framed within the context of a genuine relationship between Lena and Börje, and from the perspective of Lena who wants to know more about life, and know more about herself sexually. In this way, some of the scenes can be a bit confronting. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable when faced with nudity or lots of sex scenes in films, this isn’t your film.

I Am Curious (Yellow) is a film that smashed the glass ceiling in terms of showing sex in non-pornographic films, and for that, it’s definitely a groundbreaking, significant work. Some viewers might shy away from such frank displays of sexuality on screen, or find its structure and creative elements pretentious or difficult to understand. For me, this film was really refreshing and an interesting insight into the sexual politics of late 60s Europe. But it’s not all about sex and sexuality; the political overtones are fascinating and it’s surprisingly funny in parts, and Lena Nyman is the perfect lead. Its honesty and authenticity is probably its best asset. I can’t wait to watch I Am Curious (Blue), and see the further development of Lena’s sexual and political identity.

4/5

This review is a part of the “1967 In Film” Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and The Rosebud Cinema. Check out the whole list of films here!

23 comments

  1. Never heard of the yellow and blue. Cool. Very intriguing idea. Nice review 🙂

  2. I agree with the previous commenter. It truly is an intriguing idea and a brave one, too, to have a film within a film in the manner you described. Talk about having vision as a director or screenwriter or actor!

    Thanks so much for joining our blogathon with this unusual and original film.

    1. Thank you for organising yet another great blogathon! 🙂 One of the most special things about this film is its vision. It definitely has a lot to say!

  3. […] Film Grimoire – I Am Curious (Yellow) […]

  4. Anders Sjöman · · Reply

    🙂

    Wish dad had been alive to read this; a fresh review of his +45-year-old movie.

    1. Thank you so much, Anders! 🙂 What an amazing film it was.

  5. I never actually got around to watching this, I’m not sure why. I enjoyed your review immensely though, I watched Blue Is The Warmest Colour for the first time a few weeks ago so I’ll be interested to see how the two compare (if, indeed, they do!)

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I was actually thinking about Blue Is The Warmest Colour whilst watching this, and they’re definitely comparable. The sex scenes in this are much less blatant and feel more authentic, although that’s not to say that I thought the big sex scene in Blue felt artificial. There’s a similar feeling of exploration and discovering one’s identity. Both great films!

  6. Ooo I had to watch this for a film class once. I was baffled, as I expect I was supposed to be! Let’s just say that the penis “petting” scene made quite the impression on me. My professor called the film a great example of “casual sex,” and I agree! (Is it ok that the word penis is now on your blog? Ok, now it’s here twice 😉

    1. Haha! That’s all good, I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of crazy search terms I’ll have now that there’s a whole bunch of penis on my blog! 😉 It’s funny because normally I would find something like that scene really weird and awkward to watch, but I just didn’t get that feeling with this film. Apparently the Blue version is much more political and shows what happens after the events of this one, so I’m really looking forward to watching it!

  7. […] Ever since it was mentioned in an episode of Mad Men this season, I’ve been meaning to get around to I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW). I have to admit, one thing that show is great about is reminding me of films I loved and pointing me towards ones I still need to catch! This week Anna at Film Grimoire caught up with the 1967 gem, and seems as though she was quite taken with it. […]

  8. […] a fantastic year for film, a fact which I hadn’t really been aware of before. I wrote about I Am Curious (Yellow), which was a pretty awesome film (I’m also kind of stoked that the director’s son […]

  9. […] And finally, the lovely Anna of Film Grimoire (awesome blog name; I’m jealous I didn’t come up with a witchy name for my site!) shed some light on the strange, intriguing, and groundbreaking 1967 Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow). She does an excellent job explaining why the movie is considered a (quirky) classic! […]

  10. Wonderful review of a remarkable film! I remember seeing both this and “Blue” and being shocked by their frankness. Your review has me wondering how I would react to them today!

    1. Thanks so much Barry! 🙂 I loved Yellow’s frankness and honesty. Can’t wait to see I Am Curious (Blue)!

  11. […] after I am Curious (Yellow) (1967), I Am Curious (Blue) (1968, dir. Vilgot Sjöman) continues to follow Lena Nyman on her […]

  12. Intriguing review, I’m really interested in seeing this film now.

    1. Thanks Vinnie, it really is a great film. Definitely worth a watch!

  13. […] generally enjoyed lots of people. However when I think about favourite performances, Lena Nyman of I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) and I Am Curious (Blue) (1968) stands out as one of the more fearless performances I’ve […]

  14. […] was the controversial film i am curious yellow I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) is a pretty amazing film about a politically and sexually active young woman who has a lot […]

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