Dir. Peter Naess. Sweden/Norway 2007. 92 min.
Picked by Norway to carry its flag at the Oscars this year, Peter Naess' new screwball romance takes off a vivacious, though rather misogynistic tone, but soon settles down to a pedestrian pace which it follows the rest of the way. Naess, whose irreverent oddball comedy Elling went as far as the final Academy Awards nominations in 2002, comes up this time with an ill-assorted affair between a young man and an aggressive chatterbox who won't let go of him, despite his evident lack of enthusiasm.
A lightweight spoof that shouldn't be taken too seriously, with a touch of mischievous visuals to keep it afloat every time the script gets bogged down, it should please Scandinavian audiences, and could interest studio executives seeking suitable material for a remake. Take the concept, fix the second half of the script, and throw in two matinee idols as the leads and no one would ever suspect it was not an original Tinsel Town idea.
A nameless young man (Auvag) has fallen victim to a woman named Marianne (Ottesen), who has practically taken over his life. He is a polite, well educated and rather shy person. He delivers an off-screen stream of consciousness monologue, in which he expounds his bemused confusion.
Talking a blue streak, never leaving him the chance even to agree with her, and browbeating him into doing everything she likes the way she wants it, Marianne is soon turning his existence upside down. He is not sure he likes her, but no one asks him and at least the sex is good, judging by the frequency it takes place and the grunts, cries and sighs on the soundtrack.
That Naess and his scriptwriting partner Johan Bogaeus are not very fond of Marianne is pretty obvious early on, and every additional step in this uneasy liaison only confirms it more. They (that is Marianne) decide to go on a trip to Paris, which she decides to hate with a passion whatever he might think of it, and then changes her mind as capriciously as she made it in the first place. They continue on to a castle owned by a half-deaf, all-crazy Swedish colonel. Marianne likes it there and stays, but he feels justifiably unwanted and goes back to Paris, where he almost has an affair that his sense of duty does not allow him to consume.
After a brief reunion back in Norway, Marianne packs her bags and goes to teach in a remote location at the Northern end of the country. He visits her whenever she allows him to, until someone takes his place. Devastated, it takes him a year to work her out of his system. Then, all of a sudden, she comes back again, expecting to re-enter his life. But this time, he is already studying French, his sense of duty has evaporated and he is finally prepared to tell Marianne off in no uncertain manner.
With comedy of this kind it is not the plot itself that counts, but how it is sold to the audience. Pulling out all stops at the very beginning, with flurries of camera angles and fast-cutting, and with Marianne energetically delivering monologues without even taking a breath, the plot skips merrily ahead for a while.
But once it has been established that she runs the show and he (refusing to give the character a name implies of course a metaphorical Everyman) tags along, protesting only to the audience, new elements are needed to freshen up proceedings. Most of the ammunition, however, has been already shot by this time, and what's left - like the eccentric Swedes in the French chateau, or Marianne's eagle-watching new boyfriend - feels too predictable and tame to keep the show alive.
Trond Fausa Aurvag is practically typecast as the helpless hero with the same naïve, bewildered expression he wore so well in The Bothersome Man. Marian Saastad Ottensen might have done better had she turned Marianne into a cute cookie instead of slipping into the classic portrait of an egotistical, spoiled shrew.
Technical contribution in every department is superlative, attesting again to the high technical standards achieved by the Norwegian cinema.
Monster Film AS (Nor)
AB Svensk Filmindustri (SE)
(46) 8680 3500
SF Norge AS (Nor)
Marius Johansen Hansen
Trand Fausa Aurvag
Marian Saastad Ottesen
Trude Bjercke Strom
Ingar Helge Gimle