My review of the fantastic Swedish film ‘Amateurs’ showing at the Scandinavian Film Festival across Australia is over at Filmink and below:
A standout in this year’s festival, the Swedish film Amateurs is a delightfully crafted drama embracing community spirit and small-town activism.
Gabriela Pichler’s second feature (after her 2012 film Eat, Sleep, Die) focuses on the fictional region of Lafors, as its townsfolk have a month to produce a film to herald a low-cost German supermarket chain opening a new shop in the area.
This great premise allows Pichler to explore the small town in detail, both through the town council’s approved PR film as well as films submitted by local high school kids. These range from a Tarantino style shoot out to a wistful emotional fragment of tormented verse captured shakily on camera.
Two of these high school students, Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) and Dana (Yara Aliadotter) both children of immigrant families, are the shining lights of this fantastically effective film, showing us the true Lafors experience, as opposed to the diluted and sanctioned version.
The film brilliantly uses the handheld process of the girls’ filming and interposes it with the ongoing film of their parents’ reactions to them getting into trouble by being too forthright in their interviewing techniques. While Dana’s well to do family are supportive of her creativity, Aida’s mother is fearful of losing her cleaning job because of the girl’s hijinx. Class differences and the threat of racial prejudice hangs in the air, and the further we go into the realities of the place, the more this comes out.
Aida’s mother’s view of the town and Sweden is caught on her daughter’s camera as she takes a brief break from cleaning the council offices. Her daughter asks her what the most Lafors thing is to her and she answers poignantly that it is ‘the air, the wind, the sound of the water’. It is just another remarkable moment in this compelling feature that has so many affecting scenes.
The councilman entrusted with the film’s production is Musse (a fantastic Fredrik Dahl, in his first screen performance), also the child of an immigrant. His mother is suffering from a form of dementia and has forgotten the Swedish she was once fluent in. As it was the language Musse’s family spoke at home, he never learned Tamil, the only language his mother can now speak. Their scenes together beautifully pinpoint the importance of communication, and how some things cannot be expressed with words.
Even when the film gets into the murky territory of local politics and identity, it succeeds in creating a show of how there are universal problems and universal solutions to all kinds of difficulties. From the economic hardships experienced by small towns everywhere as industries die and unravel, to the challenges faced by new arrivals to distant lands, Amateurs is a skillfully wrought depiction of a modern fable. It is a heart-warming and energetic show of humanity, taking in the power of art and film, culture and language, and more than anything else, friendship. It’s a film to treasure.
My review of Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr’s poetic film The Swan is over at Filmink and below :
A girl alone in the wild nature of the world and a girl alone with her thoughts in a beguiling and disruptive atmosphere. Two sides of the same coin in this magical debut feature from Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr, which draws on Icelandic folk tales and dreamworlds to produce an enchanting film of subtle intensity.
The ethereal landscape of rural Iceland is beautifully captured in a film seen almost exclusively from the point of view of the girl in question, rebellious nine-year-old Sól (Gríma Valsdóttir). She has been packed off to her great aunt and uncle’s in the countryside after being caught shoplifting.
“You don’t have the eyes of a thief,” are her great aunt’s welcoming words on her arrival, and the tone doesn’t get much easier for Sól, often preferring to converse with the farm animals rather than the local villagers.
One person she does find a connection with is seasonal farmhand Jón (Thor Kristjansson), a troubled young man who spends his nights penning extended diary entries that Sól can only begin to guess at the meaning of. Both characters feel hard done by the world and uncomfortable with the day to day business of the farm. It is in the untamed and enchanting surroundings of the hills, valleys and waterside that they find some brief respite from the pain of normal life.
Further disturbance to Sól’s reading of the day-to-day is brought with the appearance of her cousin Ásta (Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir). Pregnant and harbouring secrets, she becomes a muse for Sól’s more poetic and dramatic thoughts. The girl empathises with the young woman’s dilemma of whether to give birth to a fatherless child, even as she struggles to comprehend the full implications of it.
All across the film, Sól is given a crash course in just how tough adult life can be. Blood spills onto the flowers and in the farmland, where life is merely surviving and things either have a usefulness and purpose or they don’t.
The film blends the internal thoughts of Sól with dramatic shots of the impressive vistas of Iceland’s rural beauty to great effect. Even when the tone of the story threatens to get too bleak, there is always the idea of the unconstrained natural world coming to the rescue. The darkest of human thoughts and activities can pale and lose their power in the face of the power of nature. A sobering thought, brought to bear by this unusual and memorably reflective drama.