We welcome back Nordic filmmaker Henry K. Norvalls to the site today with another thought-provoking short that demonstrates his keen sense of social consciousness. Norvalls likes to create tightly contained, highly-charged scenes that are grounded in specificity, but in doing so comment at-large on hot-button issues. Previously featured for Shower, which explored the erotic underpinnings of one man’s homophobia, Sweet Things tackles the harassment of women, not through overt misbehavior, but the subtle lack of respect exhibited in the workplace by men with power.
The film had a hell of an impact on me as a man, and as a boss, and was an opportunity for self-reflection. It is based on a real life situation with a woman meeting a potential employer who’s not that interested in her actual qualifications. Scriptwriter Line Dalheim observed the scene at a café in Oslo in 2015, and she found the behavior of the potential employer a bit off, yet noticed that she felt mad at the woman going along with it.
It’s a catch-22 that too many women know all too much about. What Sweet Things does so well is it never turns the boss into a caricature, and it’s really difficult to pin down any specific thing that he does that is offensive—it’s a fuzzy accumulation of cues. If you can’t see what’s wrong in Sweet Things, then you’re part of the problem. And as a man, I think that is a lot of us.
Coming through as a site submission, I immediately needed to hit up two of our writers on Slack, Serafima Serafimova and Chelsea Lupkin, to discuss the short. This is a heavily edited sampling of of our conversations. SPOILERS AHEAD.
If you can’t see what’s wrong in Sweet Things, then you’re part of the problem.
Jason: Is this behavior that awful?
Serafima: Yeah it’s pretty bad…
It’s not one particular thing that he does, it’s the whole package that’s pretty repulsive.
Chelsea: TRIGGERED is the word that comes to mind when watching Sweet Things. It brings to attention the worst kind of sexism – a casual sexism that spurs from normalcy
Jason: It is so subtle though, I really thought that email (at the end) was going to be a dick pic or something
Serafima: I think most women would relate
Jason: which would have killed the movie
Serafima: Oh yeah
Jason: i mean the subtlety is the point
Serafima: Exactly. Such brilliant acting, it melts my heart
Jason: that said, i think this is where a lot of the defensiveness comes in from men. you really can’t point to anything specific that crosses a line right?
He has this swagger like he has a big dick, and there is an air of paternalistic condescension…
Serafima: Well the guy is quite slimy. The arm around the shoulder is very forward and unprofessional. Especially at an interview. Him looking at women doesn’t bother me because I ogle men too
Chelsea: Most of the male and female population may not pick up on what is so subtly wrong about the interaction. It’s one of those things that until someone points it out, you probably won’t have the illuminating “aha!” moment that will surely make you question past and present interactions you’ve had in life.
Jason: Huh. It’s uncomfortable for me, because i see a lot of myself in him in my past interactions, thinking it’s “charm”. I know for sure that I’ve placed a hand on the shoulder of a female junior in a way that I’m sure could have been thought of as icky.
Maybe that makes it a great film
Serafima: I see myself in her in the past hhhahahaha
You’re not a slimeball. Trust me
Jason: well i’ve never been close enough to put my arm around you =P (Jason and Serafima haven’t met IRL)
Or sent me a dick pic!
Jason: Do you think the character in Sweet Things knows he’s a slimeball?
Jason: he is communicating a certain…sexual availability.
like, I’m not going to proposition you, that’s scuzzy, but, maybe if you’re interested, who knows…?
Serafima: yes definitely. he’s also quite openly suggestive. which is a step further.
Jason: Is that just never ok in a work environment? is it ever appropriate, if so, when?
Serafima: If you’re on a date
Jason: I mean people hook up in work all the time, it’s where we spend the most of our time.
Serafima: Yes. but these two had never met before. It’s totally fine if you suss out that the other person is on the same wave length. the woman here obviously felt pretty uncomfortable
Jason: Final thoughts?
Serafima: You know the best thing about this, which they’ve done so well
It is not so much how he behaved
But the fact that she went along with it and that’s what makes it feel so bad at the end
Which is a pretty good angle I think.
Chelsea: This casual sexism is an ideology that’s so alarmingly ingrained in our culture, that trust me when I say that it is like the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon and you’ll unfortunately see it happening everywhere. Hopefully, some of us will learn not to objectify women with this attitude and stop this kind of behavior.
Jason: For me, the impossible situation of the woman is again, something we haven’t discussed enough here, but I really was alarmed at my initial reaction to the film, which was to excuse the boss character’s behavior as innocent. Talking to you both, helps me recognize the pernicious elements. I think men are like anyone and want to be desired, and in our minds that is really tied up in power, and that power is how their appeal is demonstrated, making it easy to cross the line.