Dir: Kristian Petri. Sweden. 2003. 112mins.
Although this theatrical adaptation is very much a minority sport, it did not quite deserve to drop out of sight at the Swedish box office in the two weeks after its October 10 release. Its potential has been confirmed at MIFED, where the film attracted some arthouse distributor attention. A rather arid and mannered modern take on the Swedish marital crisis movie most famously represented by Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage, Details nevertheless builds authority through some observant writing and the performances of a strong ensemble cast, especially Pernilla August and Jonas Karlsson - a well-established young talent most recently seen in the romantic comedy Miffo, which held on to the Swedish top ten for 12 weeks. Festival exposure - possibly at Berlin - may give Details a new lease of life.
Director Kristian Petri has been working mostly in the theatre since his Directors Fortnight-selected debut Between Summers in 1995. The theatre is a strong presence in Details. The script is the result of a heavily-edited merge of two plays by Sweden's most famous living dramatist, Lars Noren; it features a young playwright (Karlsson) who dabbles with suicide and heroin; even its structure - based on two couples dissolving, swapping partners, and tentatively recombining - feels more theatrical, or balletic, than cinematic.
Although Noren did not write the script, the inflections of this Swedish Harold Pinter come through intact in the dialogue, full of enigmas and non-sequiturs (a favourite trick seems to be taking what the previous character has just said and turning it into a question). Sometimes this feels contrived, sometimes it hits a note of emotional truth.
Beginning in 1989, the story traces ten years in the lives of two mix-and-match couples. The starting line-up has Erik (Nyqvist), a publisher with mid-life emotional paralysis married to Anne (August), a world-weary doctor at the local hospital; while Emma (Hemse), an aspiring novelist who is working in a bookshop, is about to embark on a relationship with hypochondriac, drug-abusing playwright Stefan (Karlsson).
What Petri brings to Noren's dramatic set-up is the grainy, intimate look of his chosen Super 16 medium; the camera is often used to probe the "details" of the film's title, such as hand gestures, backs of necks, whisky poured into glasses (there's a good deal of this). Wars on TV (Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan) mark the passing of time; but they fail to arouse a reaction, any more than the video pornography that Erik and Anne watch to revive their sex life.
The metaphysical detachment, underscored by a spare, urban, free-jazz soundtrack, carries through in the film's Italian scenes - a holiday destination that the characters never seem to engage with. It gets a bit wearing at times, this Nordic detachment; but it is compensated for by some telling insights into the way relationships work, or don't work, in an age of diminished attention.
Prod cos: Gota Film, Triangelfilm, Film i Vast, Globe Entertainment, MoonLight Filmproduction, Leading Entertainment, SVT Fiktion, Sandrew Metronome International
Int'l sales: Trust Film Sales
Prod: Christer Nilson
Scr: Jonas Frykberg, from a play by Lars Noren
Cinematography: Goran Hallberg
Ed: Johan Soderberg
Prod des: Charles Koroly
Main cast: Michael Nyqvist, Pernilla August, Jonas Karlsson, Rebecka Hemse