The Scandinavian Entries
by Leif Joley
“Miffo”, the third feature from Swedish director Daniel Lind Lagerlöf and his scriptwriter wife Malin, seemed to be a strong candidate for the jury as well as the audience awards at the Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival. The romantic comedy, which was this summer’s domestic critical and box office success, is set in the ghetto suburbs of Gothenburg, where a young priest with some theological doubts falls in love with a girl in a wheelchair who also happens to be somewhat of a misfit. The film has gotten extremely good word-of-mouth at the festival, and it’s easy to understand why, as it combines powerhouse acting and the crowd-pleasing qualities of commercial cinema with serious plot elements and a certain edginess.
The other Swedish entry in the festival competition fared less well. Jimmy Karlsson’s “A Breach in the Wall” (Sprickorna i muren) is a low-budget drama about a suicidal but idealistic teacher who discovers that one of his pupils, a troubled teenager, is probably a genius in mathematics. Based on a novel by Swedish but now Texas based author, poet and philosophy professor Lars Gustafsson, it is – at least to Swedish ears – way too literary. The film presents a gloomy view of a Social Democratic “folkhem” (“people’s home” – “a home for all”) gone wrong in its ambition to create a classless society where everyone is equal and no one better than any other, in any respect. Although it is set in 1980, this critical investigation of Swedish sensibilities may be relevant even today. But its portrait of boredom may also be a bit infectious for the viewer, and it failed completely too reach domestic audiences last spring.
Finland’s contribution to the 23 movies in the competition selection is called “Brothers” (Broidit), a low-key, largely improvised, digitally-shot drama from director Esa Illi, in which a Finnish photographer is traveling to Estonia looking for his much younger brother who he thinks is severely ill and in need of hospital treatment back home. When he has succeeded in his search, he also finds out that he himself might not be the luckier one of the two men. Not the first film about troubled sibling relations, nor about terminal illness, “Brothers” is anyway a completely and beautifully believable work.
Denmark was represented twice in the competition. The main character in “Gemini” (“Tvilling”), from second time feature director Hans Fabian Wullenweber, is a gas station clerk who lives with his handicapped and domineering mother. The only joy in his life seems to be to spy on a female neighbor, either when she’s in the apartment below or when she appears at the gas station. A sudden change in her behavior sets off a series of strange events, none of them particularly interesting or convincing. If “Gemini”, more or less an exercise in style and creepy atmosphere, was met with indifference, much more genuine hostility was shown to Linda Wendel’s “Baby”. A murderous junkie prostitute and a sexually perverted loan shark are among the six or seven leading characters who are connected to each other in what’s probably the bleakest view of modern-day Denmark since “Pusher” and “Bleeder” from Nicolas Winding Refn (whose American-shot “Fear X” was also on-screen in Mannheim-Heidelberg). No one seems to be happy in either film; a left-wing critic may speculate if this has anything to do with the recent right-wing government in the nation.
The festival has also showcased two new documentaries that will please Federico Fellini fans: Mario Sesti’s “The Lost Ending” (L’ultima sequenza) and “Fellini’s TV Program” (La tivu di Fellini), credited to the late director. The latter one is the least interesting. Prior to the principal shooting of “Ginger and Fred”, Fellini made several parodies of commercials, talk shows and music videos which he intended to cut into the movie so that this satire of television would look like an evening in front of a TV set.
By today’s standards, the video colors look horrible; a much more urgent problem is that the humor is heavy-handed in general, and downright embarrassing when it comes to the pop video clips. Fellini gave up this idea of interrupting the plot somewhere along the way, but finally the material was dug up at the Bologna Cinematheque, and “Fellini’s TV Program” contains some 30 or 40 vignettes, all of it clocking in at 38 minutes.
“The Lost Ending” – 50 minutes long – is a different matter. Fellini – as those who’ve read the published script would know – initially wanted a much more downbeat ending to “8 1/2”, this his probably most personal achievement, but he changed his mind and decided to end it on an upbeat tone, with the circus troop marching in the final segment of the film. A photographer shot some 3,000 stills at the Cinecitta soundstage, and many of them can be viewed in Sesti’s archeological effort – including shots of the then abandoned finale, a completely whitened railway restaurant wagon with actors dressed completely in white in it: doubtlessly a vision of death. The sequence is not quite restored but it is recalled by Fellini specialists, friends of the director, actors and studio technicians; Claudia Cardinale has no memories of it whatsoever, curiously enough. As in the recent documentary “The Kid Stays in the Picture”, some of the stills are digitally manipulated to create three-dimensional movements in the photos. To flesh it all out, an interview with Fellini in Italian and English is heard on the soundtrack. Both films will probably show up as bonus material on future Fellini DVD’s.
© FIPRESCI 2003