A confident drama about a real-life 1976 political scandal, this Swedish film is expertly tells the story from three fascinating angles. The government officials are slippery and the cops are tenacious, but it's the intensely personal story of a young girl caught up in a prostitution ring that catches our emotions.
Iris (Karemyr) is only 14, but her life is already off the rails. Sent to a group home, she escapes with her pal Sonja (Asplund) looking for fun. Along the way, they're recruited by charismatic brothel madam Dagmar (August) to entertain her clients, which include high-powered politicians. Meanwhile, the government is preparing for a general election and trying to keep all of this illicit sex out of the newspapers. But a politician (Dencik) and an undercover cop (Berger) are collecting the evidence they need to crack the case. And if it hits the press, there might not be a point in holding an election at all.
The filmmakers layer the story with irony, as the Swedish government is working to build the most open and fair society on earth, drafting laws that will give women fully equal rights. But in their spare time, these same men are frequenting under-age prostitutes who aren't there by choice. Baumgarten's script digs deep to set up complex characters whose motivations and reactions might not always be clear but are vivid and recognisably real. And the cast members play the roles with such natural honesty that we can't help but sympathise with them. Watching the more intimate scenes makes us squirm in our seats.
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But in director Petter Næss's hands, our heroes Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) and Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin) become a latter-day Oscar and Felix. Or perhaps a latter day Felix and Felix -- both are so messed up it's a miracle they can work the telephone. Then again, this is the first major neurosis we encounter in Elling: He's afraid to speak on the phone at all. As the film progresses, we learn more and more about Elling's sheltered freakiness and Kjell Bjarne's sullen desire to fit in and "get some." Eventually Elling decides he's destined to be a poet and takes to secreting anonymous verses inside boxes of sauerkraut at the local market. Kjell Bjarne, meanwhile, takes up with a pregnant woman living in the building.
Continue reading: Elling Review
The local fishing magnate Thórdur (Gunnar Eyjólfsson) is an arrogant, selfish, and self-righteous man, and his refusal to modernize his plant has resulted in the loss of market share to his rival corporate competition. Desperate to place his fish processing plant in good hands before he dies, Thórdur demands that his children come to visit, even though none care much for their blustery father. Ágúst (Hilmir Snær Gudnason), Thórdur's youngest child, is supposed to be attending business school on his father's tab, but has abandoned his studies for a life as a songwriter with his beautiful (and pregnant) Parisian girlfriend Françoise (Hélène de Fougerolles). Ragnheidur (Gudrún S. Gísladóttir), Thórdur's daughter, is a bitter woman married to nebbish wimp Morten (Sven Nordin) and the mother of a spoiled son, and remains haunted by crimes committed against her as a child. Thórdur's loyal first son Haraldur (Sigurdur Skúlason), who has worked at his father's plant since the age of 10, covertly despises the old man, and is eager to take over and sell the business so that he and his greedy, gaudy wife Áslaug (Elva Ósk Ólafsdóttir) can enjoy the spoils of wealth. All three detest Thórdur's second wife Kirstín (Kristbjörg Kjeld), the sister of their long-deceased mother, while their cousin María (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir), still living with Thórdur and Kirstín, harbors romantic feelings for Ágúst. Suffice to say, theirs is a mightily dysfunctional family.
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