”We become beloved national fags. Do a talk show and talk about aging in matching knit sweaters”
You don’t understand, Martin. That is literally the dream.
Four More Years (2010, Tora Magnusson) is a Swedish rom-com about David and Martin, gay star-crossed lovers from rival political parties. David, once set to become the next Prime Minister, is recovering from a recent political defeat when he meets Martin, minister in the governing cabinet.
The lovers meet waiting for an elevator, and David drops his stack of papers all over the floor. Later, at a generic political conference evening, David ー married and presumed heterosexual (even by himself) ー is distracted by Martin’s allure and spills wine all over him. Chatting, they bond over mutual love of the band Ratata; later, David goes round to Martin’s house ー and the rest, as expected, is history.
Four More Years seemingly embraces all the classic rom-com cliches: as the well-trodden plot progresses, a simple misunderstanding drives the central romantic conflict; next, we see a montage of the pair apart from one another looking sad; and finally, a dramatic ending where you think it might not work out until the last minute. It is comfortably formulaic.
However, in the subtleties we find a more subversive manipulation of some romantic comedy tropes. After the initial rupture, David takes advantage of the politically necessary secrecy of their (short-lived) affair to pretend nothing happened.
This form of gaslighting is sadly common in the gay community, and any gay or bi man who has been with someone “bi-curious” or “questioning” will probably recognise the behaviour. You get the sense that Martin may have dealt with this before, and makes an effort to put it off for as long as possible. As the half of the pair who is comfortable and open with his sexuality, he has learned ー as many gay men do ー to not take anything for granted and to embrace the now; knowing, of course, that the latter may disappear.
After they first sleep together, Martin does everything he can to not let David get away. First, he makes him breakfast. Then, when David gets a call from his family, Martin drives him to his parents’ house in rural Sweden and they spend another night together. After driving David back into Stockholm the next day, Martin knows that this is as long as he can cling on; now, he must let David go back home, and hope that he comes back to him after his homosexual comedown. Fortunately for us, this is a romantic comedy, so I don’t think it spoils anything to say that’s not the end of their love story.
Biggest Gay Mood: having sex in the bathroom at work
Later on, another rom-com trope appears: “the gesture” ー when the lover who has done something wrong (traditionally, the man) has to prove his love to win back the girl. However, in Four More Years, they are both the man (that’s literally the point); more importantly, they have both made mistakes. Thus, David and Martin both end up offering something to the other, each being both giver and receiver (oh shush now) of “the gesture”. Here, rather than forcing the gay relationship into a tired (and heavily gendered) trope, the film gives each character both an opportunity to grow and an opportunity to forgive.
Top Tip: Don’t worry if you don’t understand all the political references; they’re ultimately unimportant.
On the surface, Four More Years is a heartwarming rom-com; thus, I think, doing what it set out to achieve. The political context was unclear and sometimes confusing (perhaps some knowledge of Swedish politics would have been helpful?) but you don’t generally mind. The love story lifts the film from its heavy and mundane context; indeed, the oppressive brown, grey and steel colour palette makes this seem intentional. For example, during David and Martin’s first kiss, queer desire shines out from behind suburban, drab, middle-class decor.
Even the men themselves are refreshingly ordinary. The film’s premise echoes Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue (a hit novel about a romance between a British prince and an American first son), but the image Four More Years projects is distinctly less glossy. The lead actors are not deliberately unattractive, but they are not deliberately attractive either; indeed, such a choice (or lack thereof) allows moments of playfulness and seduction to stand out. Approaching such an amusing yet unlikely scenario, filmmaker Tova Magnusson refuses to conform her casting to Hollywood beauty standards, grounding the film in an unexpected sense of reality.
Britney Line Time: “Can tell you want me by the way I see you staring across the room, babe”
While managing to maintain a 7+ rating by steering away from any sex scenes, the film is not perfectly innocent. In one unfortunate scene, Martin tells David that he can’t be bisexual, stating that it is “what conservative politicians make up to avoid admitting they’re flaming gay”. The film doesn’t argue against this, and instead follows through with Martin’s problematic hypothesis by proving him right about David and not showing us any bi characters. While this doesn’t detract from all the film’s merits, it certainly sullied my impression of the film. Four More Years came out over a decade ago now, but that is no excuse for biphobia.
In Four More Years, Tova Magnusson manages to craft a film which goes beyond the rom-com cliches it embraces; one only has to beneath the surface to discover something subversive that allows queerness to shine through, around and beyond heterosexual tropes. While some political context may be lost in translation, a charming story of love, liberation and self-discovery manages to stay wonderfully lucid.
Peppered within the soft love story and aggressively muted colour palettes of Four More Years sit glimpses of highly artistic cinematography. As an afterword, here are a few of my favourites.
Here, David, well into the affair with Martin, lies in bed next to his wife Fia (Tova Magnusson, also the director). While her eyeline remains fixed on him, he stares away from her straight up, as if into his own romantic imagination; she is present, he is elsewhere.
Martin, after a break from David, is distracted in a meeting. Once again, his takes him out of the scene and beyond, this time into darker thoughts and worries. David has just broken things off with him without explanation, and here Martin in literally in the dark.
After meeting by chance at the Swedish embassy in Hungary, David and Martin have dinner together. The first shots show the two men through a fisheye lens, getting close to their faces and emotions, as if each is seeing the other up-close for the first time.