Tag Archives: Swedish

CAPSULE: ABOUT ENDLESSNESS (2019)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Martin Serner, Bengt Bergius

PLOT: Wan, deadpan vignettes, including stories of a priest who has lost his faith and a couple who are inexplicably flying over a burnt-out city.

Still from About Endlessness (2019)

COMMENTS: If you’ve seen a Roy Andersson film before, you know exactly what to expect from About Endlessness. If you haven’t seen one before, it’s as easy to describe the style as it is difficult to capture the poetic impact. Andersson movies are a series of short vignettes (some under a minute), mostly grim and bleak in tone, staged on immaculately detailed sets composed of earth tones and enacted by pale actors with mostly deadpan deliveries. Endlessness is not the work I would advise Andersson neophytes to start with (begin at Songs from the Second Floor and work your way forward). This project feels less like a climax to the now-78-year-old Andersson’s brilliant career, and more like an unexpected encore, a gift to hardcore fans who are not quite ready to go home just yet.

Taken together, the patchy events of an Andersson movie suggest a tapestry of human life. Here, most of the segments are introduced by a detached female voice, whose descriptions set the stage for each bit: “I saw a young man who had not yet found love,” “I saw a couple, two lovers, floating over a city,” “I saw a woman who loved champagne.” Endlessness differs from previous entries in Andersson’s canon in that there is less obvious surrealism and absurdity, and also less obvious humor. On the other hand, while he remains a Swede who makes look jovial by comparison, there is more hope here than in the past. A scene at the railway station does not end in the disaster we predict; a fight seems to be resolved, if not happily, at least with closure; and a moment where three young women break into spontaneous dancing is the most life-affirming moment the aueteur has ever chronicled. Even so, the ratio of joy to quiet despair here is unfavorable to humanity; but at least, on occasion, he admits rays of sunlight to break from the overcast skies.

The miniatures are spare, cut to the bone, with no extraneous detail to detract from each parable. Dialogue is rare, action rarer, so we have plenty of opportunity to indulge ourselves with Andersson’s specialty—set design. While the director staged a few outdoor scenes in Endlessness, it’s next to impossible to distinguish those shot in the wild from ones filmed entirely inside his warehouse using trompe l’oeil backdrops. Often the only way to know is by checking whether the clouds move, or whether birds in the sky recede or stay nailed in place.

Recurrent check-ins with a depressed priest who has lost his faith best—and possibly too obviously—express the major theme that runs through Andersson’s work: the disappearance of God from Western culture, and the persistent longing for Him. Meanwhile, the title comes from another vignette, where a young physics student attempts to wring  a spiritual lesson out of the Laws of Thermodynamics, only to be undercut when his girlfriend fails to appreciate the metaphor. At any rate, About Endlessness is an ironic title for a film that runs a brief 75 minutes, and is haunted by premonitions of death. The ending, which will likely serve as the final shot of Andersson’s cinematic career, is a whimper. It suggests that he has run out of gas. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. I mean that his final statement seems to be that his movie ends as everything will end: broken-down and alone.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘About Endlessness’ is one of the least fanciful of Roy Andersson’s films. There’s less of the deadpan surrealism that tinged his prior, singular movies… The ‘endlessness’ of the film encompasses a lot of absurdity and disappointment, but its notes of grace sound the loudest.”–Glen Kenny, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BLOOD PARADISE (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Patrick von Barkenberg

FEATURING: Andréa Winter, Rolf Brunnström, Christer Cavallius

PLOT: A bestselling crime author goes to a Swedish farm to try to kick start her creative juices for a new book; naturally, murder ensues.

Still from Blood Paradise (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The scattered reports of “weirdness” lurking in this erotic thriller seem to be greatly exaggerated.

COMMENTS: Blood Paradise may be a horror film about an American woman vacationing in a remote part of Sweden, but Midsommar it ain’t. Robin Roberts (Winter) is a bestselling author of potboilers who’s photogenic enough to sell copies based on her author portrait alone. But her last book, “Return to Blood Paradise,” was savaged by critics as “vile” and “abusive.” The poor notices don’t seem to bother her too much; she spends her days drinking wine and smoking cigars poolside in-between trips to the boudoir for light bondage games and toe-sucking with her beefcake cabana boy (played by director von Barkenberg). But her agent nags her into taking a retreat to a remote Swedish airbnb on a farm with no wifi to remove distractions and churn her creative juices, and that’s where the trouble begins.

A jumpy fanboy Uber driver takes her to the farm, run by a crusty old Swede and his silent sister, with a creepy shirtless farmhand also hanging around. Soon enough, everyone is peeping on everyone else—lots of hidden male eyes spy on Robin when she skinny dips, but she also watches the farmer while he stealthily checks a locked shed and catches glimpses of a mysterious character with long stringy hair. The script tries to build suspense out of these few scraps, introducing more characters/suspects like the driver’s jealous wife, and for a while Blood Paradise has the feel of a low-key giallo. The mystery is revealed early in the third act, however, and the movie turns into a gruesome game of cat and mouse between victim and killer, with farm implements used to sever body parts.

Blood Paradise plays, more than anything, like a calling card for lead Andréa Winter, who is only competent as an actress but who has movie star looks and a fiery sex appeal stoked by her eagerness to frequently disrobe. In an earlier age, I could see her becoming an exploitation or softcore star or a major scream queen. There may be a place for her in modern low budget films; she can bring an aura of class to trash, if that’s what a project needs. Blood Paradise is almost entirely a joint venture between Winter and von Barkenberg, who appear to be an offscreen couple as well. He directed, she produced and composed the score, they co-wrote the script and both act in it, and they each appear in just about every credit, from editing to camerawork.

The Artsploitation Blu-ray has four deleted scenes. Despite a running time of just over 80 minutes, all of these were wisely cut, with the possible exception of “Blood Sex Dream,” which I think they chickened out on. There are also two von Barkenberg-directed music videos.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there is no lack of bizarreness in Blood Paradise… Patrick von Barkenberg’s debut film is worthwhile, even if its for the pure “WTF” factor. Are you looking for a hilariously erotic thriller comedy? Have you never heard of all those things together? Sit down and let the weirdness of Blood Paradise wash over you.”–EJ Moreno, Flickering Myth

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: KOKO-DI, KOKO-DA (2019)

DIRECTED BY: Johannes Nyholm

FEATURING: Leif Edlund, Ylva Gallon, Peter Belli, Brandy Litmanen, Morad Khatchadorian

PLOT: Three years after the death of their daughter, Tobias and Elin go on a joyless camping holiday; a trio of otherworldly psychopaths interrupts their first night—again and again.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Heart-rending shadow-style animation coexists with some of the cruelest nightmare denizens to be found in a cryptic forest milieu. There’s also the lurking white cat guiding the way toward salvation.

COMMENTS: Last night I did something I had never done before: I attended the second screening of Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-di Koko-da. Frankly, I had to. After the first screening, during which at least four people walked out, there was a deafening silence as the credits began rolling. A few rows ahead of me, I spied a young woman raising her hands to applaud, only then noticing that everyone else—at least everyone who had remained—was seated in a rapt silence. Upon exiting the theater, the discussions between me and my reviewer friends immediately began. Two didn’t care for it, two had fallen under its spell, and a fifth could not yet express her opinion. It was, for sure, the most divisive film I’ve encountered this festival.

We meet an unsettling trio of travelers in the woods. A sinister dandy of a man (Peter Belli) sings softly while leading a strange young woman with a leashed dog and a giant of a fellow carrying a dead white dog. Then, the one happy part of the film: Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elyn (Ylva Gallon) are out celebrating their daughter’s birthday—done up in bunny makeup for dinner.  But Elyn gets food poisoning from some mussels. They camp out at the hospital, and when the parents arise the next morning to sing birthday greetings to their daughter, they find that she died in the night. “Three Years Later” we find the couple again, sniping at each other on their way to a camping holiday. They spend a restless night, and the next morning are set upon by the strange gang from the opening sequence. Again, and again.

I have seen time loops a-plenty, but the cruel, repeated turns of events make Koko-di Koko-da stand out from among its Groundhogian peers. The subtle shifts in climax from doomed encounter to doomed encounter exhibit a psychological nastiness that suggests the director aims to be as unkind to his audience as he is to his characters. But there is a beauty in his movie that rests surprisingly well alongside the surrounding trauma. The two animated shadow-sequences involving two bunnies losing their child, then destroying a (pointedly symbolic) rooster, have an aura of magic tinged with sadness. These accentuate the barbarity found in the encounters with the trio of eerie horrors.

Put simply, I loved this movie, and I knew this immediately upon finishing it for the first time. Generally I can talk about the intellectual reasons I really like something, but here I found myself affected more on a visceral level. I spoke with two of the fellows who walked out, and I couldn’t blame them; the wringer this movie puts the audience through is very trying. But, for those of you who click with this bad dream, there is the reward of intoxicating relief and exhilaration. And like Koko-di Koko-da‘s mystical story, its haunting tune will cling to your memory.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…von Trier’s Antichrist meeting Groundhog Day in laconic and absurdist Scandi poetics.”–Martin Kudlak, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: BORDER (2018)

Gräns

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ali Abbasi

FEATURING: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren

PLOT: Tina is a Swedish customs officer with a super-human ability to detect when travelers are hiding something; her monotonous existence is upended when she meets Vore, who is hiding something far stranger than mere contraband.

Still from Border (2018)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Ali Abbasi’s film unflinchingly depicts “the other” in a low-key manner that forces the viewer to constantly question how well they can handle those who are very different from them. The mounting discomfort breaks mid-way through a reveal that is as surprising as it is relieving.

COMMENTS: Working for a site such as this, one often (and, indeed, hopefully) stumbles across strange and unsettling things that one cannot un-see. The carnage of Greenaway’s chamber drama; the nightmare of Lynch’s take on parenthood; or the sheer unpleasantness of von Trier’s rumination on couples going through a rough patch: all grab the viewer with an aural and visual assault through a strange, strange lens. With Border, director Ali Abbasi joins this crew of unrelenting visionaries. For its first half, his film defies categorization; for its second half, it pulls the viewer into a fairy-tale macabre whose supernatural elements are belied by their matter-of-fact depiction.

Tina (Eva Melander) is ugly, anti-social, awkward, but undeniably skilled at her job. With an almost feral sniff at passersby, she is able to determine if they are carrying something dangerous or illegal across the border into Sweden. Being able to sense shame, guilt, and a gamut of other emotions, she spots underage boozers, would-be traffickers, and even a well-heeled traveler with something dreadful on a hidden memory card. When a comparably ugly, antisocial, and awkward man (Eero Milonoff) passes her post, she knows something is “wrong” about him, but a thorough search of his luggage (and his person) reveals nothing. She’s never failed before, and feels compelled to learn more about this mysterious man. While aiding the authorities in breaking up a child pornography ring, she bonds with this stranger and ultimately learns two unsettling truths.

Without giving much more away, I felt a very strange sense of relief after the big reveal. The first hour of Border goes by without any explanation for the uncomfortable goings-on: uncomfortable for someone like me, at least. The continuous kind of “normalcy” on display became very trying, and my sense of comparative ease when Abbasi finally showed his hand made me wonder: would this movie have been better without that release valve? As it stands, it is a very good, and very strange, viewing experience. Had he gone completely without explanation, it would have been a much more difficult movie to watch, but perhaps a much more salient one. Having been pushed to the edge of an uncomfortable frisson, the pull-back allowed me to think of it more cinematically; and I was able to then better view it for its narrative and thematic merits. In the end, Border‘s greatest achievement is providing the viewer with a believable, optimistic finish to its strange tale of deformity, love, and human cruelty.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The strangeness in this film writhes like bacteria.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)

Must See

Låt den rätte komma in

DIRECTED BY: Tomas Alfredson

FEATURING: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar

PLOT: A lonely, isolated boy finds a kindred spirit in a new neighbor, who turns out to be a vampire responsible for a series of strange deaths in the small suburban community.

Still from Let the Right One In (2008)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Let the Right One In is a savvy addition to the vampire canon, placing much that is familiar in a bracingly new context. Unexpected as it may be, this reinvention isn’t so much weird as it is refreshing.

COMMENTS: When we celebrate the centennial of Nosferatu in a few years, it will be a great opportunity to reflect on how the vampire film has become a genre unto itself. In the course of its century, we have seen a multitude of variations on just what a vampire can be: sparkling teen crush, hoodlum slacker, inappropriately tan, habla hispana, African prince, space vixen, thin white duke, legitimately crazy, or even the star of the century-old classic Nosferatu itself, to name but a few. The enemies of vampires have similarly become diverse and varied: everything from cheerleaders to great emancipators to lords and saviors. The fact that I’ve left out so many in this extremely short listing indicates how pervasive the vampire has become and how vast the possibilities are for exploring its legend, and explains why filmmakers as idiosyncratic as Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, and Guy Maddin have filtered the vampire through their own distinctive worldviews. The vampire is more than a mere monster. It is a full-fledged entity unto itself, through which we can refract our understanding of society and history.

When that vampire retrospective does come around, there should be a sizeable chunk of time devoted to Let the Right One In, a thrilling synthesis of the familiar tropes of the vampire mythos into something wholly new and surprising. Everything you expect from a vampire movie is here, but delivered in a deceptively measured tone that gives new shadings to familiar clichés, while also lulling the audience into a quiet reverie that gives the film’s inevitable shocks even greater punch.

Screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist (adapting his own novel) smartly centers the story on Oskar, the lonely boy who comes to fixate on the strange girl who has moved into his neighborhood. (I’ll be using female pronouns for Eli in acknowledgement of the talented young actress in the role, although the film suggests Eli’s gender should be very much in doubt.) Oskar has so many unfulfilled needs: an attentive family, an engaged educator, a protector from schoolyard abuse. But he is not cowed in the face of these obstacles. When threatened, he stiffens his spine and waits for the moment to pass. So when he meets Eli, confident enough to march around in the snow in short sleeves but unfamiliar with a Rubik’s Cube, it is hardly surprising that he bets his entire soul on her.

Oskar’s sweetness is essential, because Eli is essentially an amoral creature, a fact he seems to recognize but is grateful to overlook. Although she gives off a childlike innocence in Oskar’s presence, she is both a feral animal, as seen in her vicious and intense attacks on random townspeople, and a wily schemer, as demonstrated by her manipulation of Håkan, the simple man who appears to be her caretaker. We know something is up when we see the elaborate-yet-ramshackle method in which he kills and drains victims in order to feed his charge, and when we see his meekness in the face of conflict and the abuse she heaps upon him when he fails, we learn much about her true nature.

Given both its locale and its tone, it’s tempting to view Let the Right One In as the vampire movie Ingmar Bergman never made. But when Alfredson is ready to pour on the horror, he does so with gusto, invigorating the most common elements of vampire tales with new power. Vampires must be invited into a home? We see the disturbing consequences when they aren’t. You’ve heard that sunlight is bad for vampires? You may not be prepared for the suddenness and violence of the sun’s wrath. And the film’s final set piece at a swimming pool is a justifiable favorite, a masterful demonstration of the value of showing just enough action to let the mind fill in the rest.

Let the Right One In boasts one of the most disturbing happy endings you’re likely to come across. Oskar and Eli escape, and the affection he feels for her is evident even with her in hiding. They will look after each other, you can be sure. But then you recall who else took care of Eli, and what that relationship became. It’s fair to wonder how many years will pass before he, too, will be packing up his kit to go rustle up food for the sweet child who befriended him so long ago.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Some movies, while never quite attaining masterpiece status, nonetheless have a monumental WTF-factor. This is one such… thoroughly macabre, maintaining a downbeat, realist lugubrious air, like a cop procedural…very satisfyingly bizarre scenes.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Miss_Murder. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: EVIL ED (1995)

DIRECTED BY: Anders Jacobsson

FEATURING: Johan Rudebeck, Per Löfberg, Olof Rhodin

PLOT: A meek film editor at a studio gets assigned to edit a stack of gory slasher movies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s too lazy to be weird. As it stands, a parody of the Evil Dead series didn’t have much of a shot at being good, but they could have at least taken advantage of the situation and made something inspiring. Instead, all the blood is drained out of this iron-deficient corpse as the bored crew puts in the minimal effort to collect a paycheck and blow it on vodka.

COMMENTS: Evil Dead fans may feel compelled to watch this movie out of the same sense of duty that drives Star Wars fans to put themselves through the Star Wars Holiday Special. Every fandom has its penance. The present author will confess to not being a particularly heavy fan of either, but as a confirmed Trekkie, I’m pretty smug, because even our worst parody still has John Belushi in it. And then we got Galaxy Quest (which was like Spaceballs to Star Wars), and that cool “Black Mirror” episode on top of that. But I digress, because—let’s be honest here—the rest of this review is a waste of all our time anyway.

This Swedish-produced Evil Dead parody starts out with Good Ed—Edward the film editor. Ed gets transferred to the “Splatter and Gore” department, where reports to department head Samuel Campbell. Ooooh, I get it, like the director “Sam” and the actor “Campbell”! That’s what passes for a funny idea here. Ed is assigned to edit several reels in the studio’s “Loose Limbs” series. Ed uses the exact same dingus Tyler Durden used in Fight Club to splice film strips around the nasty parts too spicy for the censors as we witness random scenes meant to lampoon the original material.

But wait, will the constant exposure to demented slasher cinema turn Ed into a madman? We guess so, because Ed starts having hallucinations when he’s away from his work station, pleading with his boss to be transferred back, and generally acting like an anxious fruitcake. As we get many jump-cut scenes from the films he’s editing, and the cliched springing-out-of-bed nightmare, things do get a tiny bit interesting as Ed becomes Evil Ed and menaces all around him. A goofy critter in the fridge (for all of two minutes) is a highlight, but sadly just one more throwaway gag. Things perk up at the hospital scenes at the back half hour of the movie, mostly because it’s been a while since they bothered to light a set properly. Even when the movie makes an effort, it’s the bare minimum, while I’m slapping my face to stay awake because espresso stopped having any effect.

The problem with doing this as a parody is that Evil Dead was already a parody. Bruce Campbell’s Ash is a hundred times funnier than anybody in Evil Ed, and he isn’t even in the major leagues. When Ash is brandishing a rifle to a crowd of medieval yokels and quoting his retail store’s bland jingle in Army of Darkness, it’s clear that the movie isn’t taking itself seriously, right? So what’s the point of this one? Even as a parody, Evil Ed isn’t on target; they miss dozens of opportunities to riff on the over-the-top cheeseball lines (“Hail to the king!” “Blow your butts to kingdom come!” “Good… bad… I’m the guy with the gun.” etc. ) that made the Evil Dead franchise so famous. Evil Ed runs out of ideas before the credits roll, and then flounders around in pointless awkwardness. It’s like watching the Underpants Gnomes plan a script where the big middle part is blank, not even interesting enough to be memorably bad.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“What starts as a promising spoof of the vast chasm between Europe’s art film past and the corruption of cinema as practiced by U.S. splatter pic specialists like Sam Raimi, John Carpenter and their ilk, slowly runs out of creative gas and becomes victim to the excesses of the gore genre.”–Steven Gaydos, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Ann Kristin. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)