🇸🇪 DON’T EVER WIPE TEARS WITHOUT GLOVES 🇸🇪
(by Gina Meardon)
Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves (Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar, 2012-13) is a Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian drama. Miniseries 3 x 58-minute episodes. Swedish with subtitles. Available to purchase on Amazon Prime £6.99; MHz Choice USA & Canada.
A story of love and death. Rasmus, 19, escapes to Stockholm and finds love with the religious Benjamin just as the AIDS epidemic hits the city’s gay community.
Adam Lundgren as Benjamin
Adam Pålsson as Rasmus
Björn Kjellman as Berättarröst (Narrator) and Benjamin as an older man
Simon J. Berger as Paul
Emil Almén as Seppo
Michael Jonsson as Lars-Åke
Christoffer Svensson as Bengt
Annika Olsson as Rasmus Mother
Stefan Sauk as Rasmus Father
Marie Richardson as Benjamin’s Mother
Gerhard Hoberstorfer as Benjamin’s Father
Ulf Friberg as Holger
Director: Simon Kaijser
Writer: Jonas Gardell
Cinematographer: Stefan Kullänger
Original Music: Andreas Mattsson
Costume: Ewa Mark
The series is based on a trilogy of books of the same name by series creator Jonas Gardell. It is based on his real-life experiences witnessing the AIDS epidemic in Stockholm in the 1980s. Each of the 3 episodes covers one of the novels that are subtitled “Love, Disease and Death”.
The series was produced by Sveriges Television and aired on SVT1 in October 2012. The BBC bought the series in 2013 and the first episode aired on BBC4 on the 2nd December 2013 to mark World AIDS Day.
Both the Director Simon Kaijser and Cinematographer Stefan Kullänger worked on Before We Die.
This is a series I have been wanting to watch for a long time because I knew it was Adam Pålsson’s breakthrough role and the subject matter. However, it was that very subject matter that made me hesitate for so long because I knew how much it would upset me. But having watched Russell T. Davies excellent depiction of the AIDS epidemic in Channel 4’s It’s a Sin, I decided the time was now right to watch the Swedish forerunner.
If comparisons are to be made (and I don’t know if Russell T Davies ever saw Don’t Ever Wipe Tears) but this series is It’s a Sin stripped bare of the raunch. The sex is there but is implicit rather than explicit and there is, unusually for a Scandinavian production, very little nudity. Instead, this 3-part series focuses on the genuine love and friendship of a tight-knit community of gay men in Stockholm, who came together from different parts of the country, to find their true selves and to live their lives together at a time when hostility and bigotry towards homosexuals were as prevalent in the ‘liberal’ society of Sweden as anywhere else in the world.
There is little point in giving a further spoiler warning because it is painfully obvious from the very first frame of Rasmus lying, dying in his hospital bed, the journey, you as the viewer, are about to embark upon.
The beautiful curly-haired boy Rasmus (Adam Pålsson) is barely recognisable, such was the destructive cruelty of the AIDS virus. The title of the film comes from that very opening scene where 2 nurses are changing dressings on his body and in doing so cause him so much pain his tears flow. One of the nurses, so moved by his distress, removes her glove to wipe his tears away and is severely reprimanded for her actions. Your heart breaks.
The story unfolds almost like a video diary. Told by Benjamin in 2013 in flashbacks to memories of childhood, friendships and the love of his life, Rasmus, how they met, how they lived and how his Rasmus and their friends died.
All those young men have families, and like It’s a Sin, those families are united in their absolute denial that their boys were gay or that they will admit their deaths were through anything other than cancer. AIDS was shunned. In essence, the story is the same but this drama is not a blueprint for the Channel 4 production, it is about Rasmus and Benjamin and how they fell in love. It is about Seppo and his partner Lars-Åke, the budding young actor Bengt, diagnosed on the very cusp of fame, and especially the gloriously delightful, flamboyant, witty, outrageous and promiscuous ‘mother-hen’ Paul, who gathers them together as one big family.
Rasmus comes to Stockholm as a 19-year-old desperate to escape small-town prejudice and bullying because of his sexuality. He is beautiful and a virgin and quickly throws himself into the city’s gay scene, and therein lies the tragedy… His very first sexual encounter is with a man who is carrying the tell-tale carcinoma on his back, but they are unaware of what it is. Soon after, he meets Paul for the second time (after briefly meeting when Rasmus first arrived off the train). Paul invites him for Christmas dinner to meet his other friends, a meal that becomes a tradition over the years and eventually a memorial to those no longer there.
We meet Benjamin, the dutiful son of Jehovah Witnesses – and please don’t think that this is a series without humour, as the scene where Benjamin meets Paul is delightful and funny. Benjamin is cold-calling apartments trying to give away The Watchtower and preach the scriptures when Paul answers the door of his apartment to him. He is not prepared for the force of nature that invites him in. Simon J. Berger’s performance as Paul will have you captivated to his very last breath and beyond, I won’t say why, you will have to watch through to the final episode for that.
By the time Rasmus and Benjamin take the plunge and move in together Rasmus’s parents are aware he is gay, but Benjamin cannot come out to his parents and instead refers to Rasmus as his ‘flat mate’. This ‘denial’ of his existence leads Rasmus to random sexual encounters and it is only when Rasmus receives the inevitable, crushing, news that he has tested positive for AIDS, that Benjamin has the courage to confront his parents with his sexuality. Their response will shock you; it is devastating to him… the letters that a son writes to his mother only for her to put them, unopened, straight into a drawer and then write back with “please stop writing, I pretend you do not exist” is gut-wrenching.
There are some light moments before the illness really takes hold. The group of friends sunbathing naked, jumping up and singing “Glad to be Gay” to a boat full of daytrippers is one such moment.
Love is at the heart of this story, a pure genuine love between 2 young people who happen to be men. Today they would have remained healthy and free to marry and have children. Benjamin was devoted to Rasmus and it is Benjamin who stays by his side day and night in hospital until that inevitable moment he is forced to call Rasmus parents to make the journey to their son’s side.
And if losing Rasmus, aged just 25, wasn’t devastating enough for Benjamin, Rasmus’s parents, hitherto supportive of the relationship, reveal their true inner feelings in the wake of his death. A cruel blow to an already distraught young man whose own parents had by then long abandoned him.
I had intended to watch this over 3 days but was so utterly absorbed, devastated (and angry, especially with both sets of parents) that I found myself halfway through the final episode close to midnight and forced myself to finish the next day.
This is such a beautifully written drama. It is no surprise it is rated 8.4 on IMDB, with reviews consistently rating it 9 and above. When Paul finally succumbs, the drama takes his funeral to a whole new level, it is unexpected and yet given his fondness for extravaganza it is perfect. Uplifting, funny, irreverent and laugh out loud through the tears that you will shed. This was a man determined not to be forgotten or wrapped and taped into a black garbage bag – which is what they were, shockingly, doing to AIDS victims then!
The end of Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves does bring closure. Benjamin, although HIV positive, is able to live his life because of the life-saving drugs that came too late for Rasmus and his friends. He lives alone with his memories and a shrine of photographs accompanied by fresh flowers. Rasmus is the only man he has ever loved. One day he gets an unexpected phone call. 24 years after Rasmus death he is given the opportunity to visit the grave he has never been allowed to see – this was the moment that finally broke me and this is the first review I have ever written where I have had to stop and wipe away the tears as they fell freely.
Benjamin is finally able to say goodbye to Rasmus and breaks down to the kind stranger who gave him the chance, telling him exactly how Rasmus suffered for the last 2 years of his life. By finally getting to talk about him he is able to let go of the past and the grief that has been part of him since they had all gone. He takes the train home and finally draws back the curtains and places fresh flowers in the window instead of the shrine.
As the credits rolled, I sat in silence for quite some time, trying to come to terms with having lived through those years without having any real understanding of how devastating the epidemic had really been, and I felt ashamed.
I need to say something about the stellar performances from the cast. This was 2012 and there were no Kristallen Awards for Best Actor back then. If there had been then I can think immediately of 3 names deserving of that award Adam Lundgren, Adam Pålsson and Simon J. Berger. All were utterly outstanding and owning their characters. Stefan Sauk as Rasmus father, whose love for his son was undeniable, yet still could not face the stigma of AIDS is also deserving of a mention.
Marie Richardson, devout Jehovah’s Witness, loving mother to the boy-child, yet able to serve him his own ‘funeral cake’ and then walk away without a backward glance with his words of “I love you”, still ringing in her ears was quite something else.
And what a superb job the make-up department did in showing the true, uncompromising, physical devastation of AIDS. It was both shocking and necessary to really understand how cruel the disease was.
I acknowledge that you may not think a mini-series tackling AIDS would be on your “must-watch” list but honestly, please do try. Like Chernobyl that tackled the devastation of that disaster, this series confronts AIDS head-on, but the love affair of Benjamin and Rasmus is so pure, and the friendships so endearing and genuine, it is definitely one to watch.
For fans of both the Adams, Lundgren and Pålsson you will not be disappointed. Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves showcases their exceptional talents.
Audience Award Annual Séries Mania Festival Paris 2013
Kristallen Awards 2013 Best TV Drama
Prix Europa 2013 Best TV Drama
Arrow TV Official Trailer for Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves:
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When I finally heard of this only a couple of years ago I wondered what had taken so long. When I watched it I was enthralled. Very little about the plot and its telling is predictable, and it seemed to portray the time and place so well, even for viewers like myself who’ve never been to Sweden, and also never had to endure most of the struggles depicted.
I need to see it again, thats certain
I hope your review prompts a few viewers to search out this very fine production.
On behalf of the reviewer (Gina Meardon) many thanks for your great and observant comments about this series. If the review touches people then her goal of bringing awareness has been achieved.