I wanted to watch something backward-looking, with a focus on the struggles faced by queer communities in the 1980s. I settled for the award-winning three part Swedish TV drama, 'Don't Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves' (Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar) which takes its haunting title from the opening scene where a nurse wipes the tears from the face of a dying AIDS patient without her gloves. The series focuses on the impact of AIDS on Stockholm's gay community and is based on a series of novels by Jonas Gardell, called 'Love', 'Disease' and 'Death'.
Adam Palsson plays Rasmus: vibrant, beautiful and engaging, he comes to Stockholm from his rural home to attend university. He changes his clothes on the way, a metaphorical shedding of his old self and steps off the train into Stockholm, eager to explore Stockholm's gay scene. His first encounter (of sorts) is with the captivating Paul (Simon J. Berger) who brings Rasmus straight into the path of Benjamin (Adam Lundgren).
Although the primary focus is on the stories of Rasmus and Benjamin, Berger is the one who steals the show. Paul is flamboyant and full of life, which makes his eventual demise even more poignant. It is Paul who brings the group together, and as much as the series is a story of love and death, it is also a story of community and friendship. Paul's defiance doesn't leave him with his final breath, and his funeral is a celebration of all things queer and fabulous.
In contrast to the more seasoned Paul, Palsson's Rasmus and Lundgren's Benjamin are altogether quieter characters, negotiating their way through Stockholm's gay scene and their burgeoning relationship. Palsson and Lundgren are young, beautiful, doe-eyed boys. Their initial attraction to one another is instantaneous and watching their interactions is like watching a flame flicker, just waiting to be snuffed out. The ravages of the illness contrast sharply with atmospheric and moody shots of Stockholm's streets, young men under lamplight, flashbacks to childhood and the symbolism of the faded hand print on the window and the elusive white elk.
There's a quietness to the series. Even the screams, when they are shown, are silent. The story unwinds with slow, poignant purpose towards its inevitable conclusion, punctuated by non-linear glimpses of the future. The relationship between Rasmus and Benjamin is both touching and tame. For me at least the relationship could have been more passionate and would have been well served with some of the vigour and spark the viewer sees in Paul. Benjamin's dedication to Rasmus and lonely path to old age resonates a little less strongly as a result a somewhat underdeveloped relationship. Yet perhaps the relationship is deliberately low-key. The characters themselves are quiet and say far less in words than they do with lingering looks.
Despite my minor grumbles, this is a beautifully filmed story of love, life and death which has thoroughly occupied my mind over the course of the day.