“Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves” (“Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar”)
While there’s a tendency in English-speaking countries to only ever consider how certain events affected us, of course they often affect other places too. That’s very true of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. In terms of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, we rarely hear about countries aside from the United States. Most documentaries and films tend to concentrate on what happened in this country. The three-part mini-series Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves” takes us to Stockholm, Sweden in the early 80s.
Rasmus (Adam Palsson) is a young man comes to Stockholm to check out the bright lights. Staying with his aunt he soon immerses himself in the gay world, meeting other people and having fun. He meets Benjamin (Adam Lundgren), who comes from a very strict family of Jehovah’s Witnesses when he knocks on the door of one of Rasmus’ gay friends, hoping to spread the word of his religion. Rasmus immediately sees that Ben is gay, something the young man thought nobody could see. Ben slowly begins to open up and eventually starts a relationship with Rasmus.
Things are not perfect though. Benjamin just wants a simple monogamous relationship and has no intention of coming out to his parents while Rasmus feels people should be out and proud, and he also wants to have sex with other people too. Then they hear about a “gay plague” and people around them start getting sick. From the very beginning we sense that this is not an easy film and the title comes from a line of dialogue in the first few minutes where a nurse is informed not to touch AIDS patients without full-on safety gear. Throughout the film, we move between the young men figuring out their lives amid the promise of early 80s Stockholm gay scene and Rasmus lying in a hospital bed suffering the effects of AIDS.
The film uses quite an effective structure, contrasting the hope and possibility of gay people in a society that’s slowly becoming more accepting of different sexualities, with the devastating impact the AIDS virus has. The three hour-long episodes are helped enormously by some great performances. Adam Palsson is excellent as the brash Rasmus but this is Adam Lundgren’s movie— he is the heart of it all. The supporting cast is excellent as is the recreation of 1980’s life. There is a nice specificity both in its visual style and how it shows an intimate knowledge of the areas of Stockholm that were popular with gay people in the early 80s, including the place where the bars were to where people went cruising.
It’s not always an easy watch since the film doesn’t shy away from the horrible reality of the end stages of AIDS. However that’s as it should be. For those who weren’t around at the time, it’s easy to think the AIDS crisis was a bad thing without realizing what it was actually like for those living through it. As we see here, these were people still somewhat dislocated from society and often estranged from their own biological families. They had built their identity and new families amongst one another and then had to watch those closest to them dying ugly, agonizing deaths and often wondering if/when the same would happen to them. They also knew that if it had primarily been happening to straight people, the reaction would have been a full scale emergency rather than it becoming a political football and ignored by many.
“Don’t Ever Wipe Tears” was a bit of a sensation when it first aired in Sweden in 2012, and there was even talk of it being recut into a film for distribution in other countries which is finally happening.