The Sexual Politics of Lena Nyman in ‘I Am Curious’

Swedish actress Lena Nyman was one of the most unlikely sex symbols in the history of cinema. If we were to put it more succinctly, we might call her the Film Nerd’s version of a sex symbol. Nyman’s main claim to fame was the infamous 1967/1968 I Am Curious Yellow/ I Am Curious, one film that was split into two because of runtime. Nyman played Lena, a young woman in 1960s Sweden, who was swept up in the social change of the era that took even staid Sweden along with it.

In the film, Nyman was the new, modern woman. She wasn’t a glamour girl, didn’t have the perfect body but men still lusted after her nonetheless. They didn’t fullfil her soul but she had every right to partake in indulging her carnal side as much as any man. Hedonism , both political and sexual were the new white picket fence in the 1960s.

BÖRJE “You’ve just got a big mess inside your head. Why don’t you try doing something — like dieting? Why don’t you put calorie charts on your walls instead of this stuff! And listen, you think you can ride in my MG with those drooping tits!? “

Borje to Lena

The babyboomers, Lena’s generation, preached the “We” order but were bidding their time until they could flip the “W” to an “M”. Though she preaches a more harmonious world, the pleasure the movie Lena gets the most satisfaction from confronting sexist males and the establishment’s arcane laws, in this case Sweden.

This all filters through the probing lens of director Vilgot Sjoman roving, documentarian lens. In the film, he is Lena’s lover/love interest. How close to reality that is one is never sure. His portrait of Lena is both very tender and very provocative. He lovingly frames shots of her to catch her at her most beautiful time but, then, he is unafraid to peel away the beauty and show her naked and weak. More than once, Sjoman allows the viewer to be witness as someone violates Lena.

Through it, one feels Lena to be less of a love interest of Sjoman’s and more of a muse.

Whatever th e case may hav e been, Vilgot Sjoman got what he most sought from the two films: controversy and attention. He purposely distracts the viewer from the politics of law with the politics of sex and procceds to wrap the viewer in his own hubris.

Seized by customs upon entry to the United States, subject of a heated court battle, and banned in numerous cities, Vilgot Sjöman’s I Am Curious—Yellowis one of the most controversial films of all time. This landmark document of Swedish society during the sexual revolution has been declared both obscene and revolutionary. It tells the story of Lena (Lena Nyman), a searching and rebellious young woman, and her personal quest to understand the social and political conditions in 1960s Sweden, as well as her bold exploration of her own sexual identity. I Am Curious—Yellow is a subversive mix of dramatic and documentary techniques, attacking capitalist injustices and frankly addressing the politics of sexuality.

As Sjoman aptly demonstrates, the politics of sexuality win out every time.