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The Serpent's Way (1986)

Ormens väg på hälleberget (original title)
A salesman and his son sexually abuse the generations of women of a poor family as payment for debt. Janni must see his mother, sister, niece and wife all being exploited, and the family grow bigger with the abuser's kids.


Bo Widerberg


Torgny Lindgren (novel), Bo Widerberg (screenplay)
1 win & 4 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Stina Ekblad ... Tea
Stellan Skarsgård ... Karl Orsa Markström
Reine Brynolfsson ... Jani
Pernilla August ... Eva (as Pernilla Östergren)
Tomas von Brömssen ... Jacob
Pernilla Wahlgren ... Johanna
Ernst Günther ... Ol Karlsa
Birgitta Ulfsson Birgitta Ulfsson ... Grandma
Johan Widerberg ... Jani / Child
Melinda Kinnaman ... Eva / Child
Åsa Karlin Åsa Karlin ... Child (as Åsa Göransson)
Michael Kallaanvaara ... Child
Calle Carlswärd Calle Carlswärd ... Child (as Carl Carlswärd)
Amelia Glas-Drake Amelia Glas-Drake ... Tilda (as Amelia Glas Drake)
Gun Fors Gun Fors ... A Woman


In rural Sweden of the 19th century, it was customary for poor families' debts to landowners or shopkeepers to be repaid through sexual reciprocity of women or daughters. According to well-established moral and ethical views and rather dubious interpretation of the Bible, they have the undeniable right to levy such a kind of "rent" from any woman who owes them. Tea is surrendered to such a creditor despite the suicide of her husband. His son later takes over the role of father, but when Tea's sixteen-year-old daughter has to take her place to pay the debt, the man is neutered by one of Tea's sons.

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Did You Know?


Referenced in Zingo (1998) See more »


Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!
Composed by Franz Xaver Gruber
Lyrics by Joseph Mohr
Performed by Pernilla Wahlgren
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User Reviews

Strong story of old-time oppression, sadly mauled by disastrous storytelling and self-parody .
19 November 2011 | by ozjeppeSee all my reviews

In the 1880's, poverty-struck northern rural Sweden, a widow and her family is tormented by a despicable landholder/merchant who demands that the lease for their house, is to be paid in sexual favors once they can't afford the monetary one.

A very strong, simple basic story of old-time oppression, poverty and evil, is inexplicably mauled by a frustrating editing chopfest-technique (title cards, short take, cut - title cards, short take, cut... etc.) one expects to find only in a butcher shop. It's nearly impossible to connect with any character fully, by this type of storytelling and minimal dialog.

Also, because of the limited and claustrophobic setting, the endlessly repetitive dark and murky misery almost becomes a parody of poor rural folk suffering & drudgery in itself: By the umpteenth time bad guy Skarsgård enters the log cabin and wheezes: "It's time to talk about the lease", I'm actually laughing in the midst of deep tragedy - and THAT is a huge problem for any filmmaker. And do we have to read the book to find out what the fudge exactly happens in the (is it metaphorical?) end? Against this, the memorable performances by Ekblad, Skarsgård and Brynolfsson fight as fruitlessly as their characters against a perpetual winter. Sadly, supposedly a top filmmaker's worst movie.

My tip: for better depictions of my countrymen's gripping fates from this time period, check out Jan Troell's "The emigrants"!

3 out 10 from Ozjeppe.

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Release Date:

25 December 1986 (Sweden) See more »

Also Known As:

The Serpent's Way See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



Color (Fujicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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