Dir: JensLien. Nor-Ice. 2006. 95mins.
A darkly comicNorwegian fable, The Bothersome Manimagines the after-life as a vacuous Scandinavian social democracy: it's theglossy dystopia of The Truman Showtransported to the land of designer sofas, 30-hour weeks and sweet blonde girlscalled Ingeborg. Lien's debut, the similarly quirky Johnny Vang,did only modest box office in its native Norway and next to nothing elsewhere.In contrast The Bothersome Manmanages the tricky 'surreal adult fable' genre with enough panache to make itas ripe for export as another recent tall tale from the land of the fjords,Bent Hamer's KitchenStories (which also played in Cannes, albeit in Directors' Fortnight -unlike The Bothersome Man whichpremiered in Critics Week). It comes as no surprise to see Hamercredited as executive producer on this one.
Ifthe film pulls off what risks being a one-joke exercise, it's thanks todirector Lien and scriptwriter Per Schreiner's deft command of themelancholy-comic-grotesque tone, and the central performance by Trond Fausa Aurvag,whose anguished, silent-comedy face and sure sense of timing makes him afitting tragicomic Everyman.
Aurvag playsAndreas, a dishevelled young guy who, right at the beginning of the film,throws himself under a train. We don't know what led him to this decision, butwe do know what comes next: he gets off a bus in the middle of a blastedvolcanic landscape (Nordic indie fans will recognisethe Iceland of Noi Albinoi and Cold Light) and is met by a lugubriousgreeter who drives him to his apartment in the suburbs of a neat city thatcould be just about anywhere in Northern Europe. Andreas is also told to turnup for work next morning in an office in the centre.
Unsurequite where he is, but unwilling to complain in a world where the living iseasy and everyone treats him with respectful cordiality, Andreas goes alongwith the game for a while. He's invited to dinner by his solicitous boss andmeets the beautiful Anne-Britt (Petronella Barker),who responds to his timorous advances with smiling but emotionlessacquiescence; soon they are having rather mechanical sex and moving into one ofthe designer apartments which everyone in this smiling Ikea-land seems to livein.
Asin The Truman Show, the cracks in theutopian veneer begin gradually to open up. The food tastes of nothing, thealcohol doesn't work, and both Andreas' partner and the work colleague he has abrief fling seem happy enough when he's around but equally happy without him.An increasingly desperate Andreas decides life in this anodyne paradise isn'tworth living, and heads for an underground station identical to the one in theopening scene; but just as we're bracing for a rerun of Groundhog Day, Lien and Schreiner confoundour expectations with a hilarious comic-horror set piece.
Thesoundtrack by techno-ambient musician Ginge sets theunsettling tone, segueing from ominous bass-lines to threatening treble swarms,while orchestral passages from Grieg, and Latinococktail classics, are used to complement or counterpoint the action.
Thefilm's colour palette is a little washed out, just enough to situate Andreas'happy dystopia a few degrees north of reality. We come out of the cinema amusedand admiring rather than seriously engaged; but two out of three buttonspressed is not a bad score.
The Icelandic Film Company
Jorgen Storm Rosenberg
John Christian Rosenlund
Trond Faus Aurvag