The Bothersome Noise of Freedom By Marco Spagnoli
Already seen in the Critics’ Week in Cannes, Jens Lien’s The Bothersome Man (Den Brysomme Mannen) won the Fipresci International Critics Prize unanimously. A co-production between Iceland and Norway, the movie can be read on different levels. On one side we have the science-fiction storytelling, while on the other, a political satire on Nordic society and its obsession with tidiness and perfection. At the same time, The Bothersome Man is an existential movie about somebody who doesn’t fit into the new world he has been offered to live in.
There is no doubt that the movie is — in a way — a moral tale: it starts in a desert where our unlikely hero is picked up to be brought into a perfect society. Heaven or hell we don’t know yet, but we feel the echo of Lubitsch’s irony when we meet this laconic character sent out to live in a world where people who commit suicide are considered somehow just annoying stains on sidewalks. So our character with all his lust for life and his inability to surrender, starts searching for a way to calm his appetite down: women, sex, drink don’t do him any good. He searches for something more and to find that he starts following a bothersome noise. A noise that might bring him somewhere else and to choose something he can never return from.
Inspired in a way by John Milton’s Paradise Lost idea (“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”), The Bothersome Man is an interesting statement about Nordic society. Compared to what FIPRESCI Jurors saw in Göteborg, the movie was the only one which seemed unafraid to say something not only about people, but also to be against something. Political and cynical, funny and tragic the movie has a great actor (Trond Fausa Arvaag) in the lead who conquers the viewer through his naivety and humour.
In a world where you cannot accept living like the others, you just become some sort of alien. The fact is that in the perfect society of The Bothersome Man, set in a nowhere land, you don’t even become dangerous or an enemy. Everything is so perfect and clean that you just become a pest. And this is so sad. There are no revolutions or bloodshed, just the words ‘to be removed from the world’ that — evidently — our reluctant hero doesn’t deserve to be in. That’s why the FIPRESCI jury, underlining the political and satirical tone of the movie, applauded its stand against homologation and conformism. The rebellion against the system isn’t born from an ideological sense, but it starts as a form of revolt from somebody who feels he’s drowning in quiet desperation. This also explains the title: the title is not revolutionary, it is just a bothersome man for the others who just hear the music and don’t feel the need for change. Why should they? Perfection can’t be improved.
The movie is not about the dullness of a life that is always the same. The Bothersome Man is a celebration of doubts as a form of understanding and — ultimately — to appreciate life for what it is and as it comes. It’s a political statement also when the main character feels he prefers to damn his so called life and career just to give himself the possibility of chasing a pale shadow of hope.
In a way, The Bothersome Man is one of the best European science-fiction movies ever produced because by talking about the perfect future it deals with the obsession of a less than perfect present.