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Simon Read [Film Festival 07.12.12] Sweden comedy drama



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Strange things are afoot in the Swedish town of Backberga. The ailing electricity company Unicom is suffering from a drought of imagination in its advertising department, along with frequent blackouts and a bizarre anti-electric terrorist faction intent on destroying them, a CEO more concerned with his profits than customers and an accountant who only wants a date. Yes, that's right, it's another oddbal European dramedy with a cast of eccentric townsfolk and a soundtrack that's fittingly electronic, but is it any good? To be honest I'm a little on the fence about this one...


Watch the trailer and you could be forgiven for assuming that this is a straight-up indie comedy about a malfunctioning community facing spiritual (and electrical) crisis, but the film as a whole concentrates far more on the dramatic elements which don't really float since the characterization is glib and each little plot-line seems to end on a rather feeble joke. An engineer is badly shocked while repairing a damaged pylon, only to be told by his doctor that he's been rendered infertile - and his wife suddenly wants a baby! The boss of Unicom is drinking too much and desperately trying to organize a panel of stooges for market research, ejecting the desperate applicant Ulla because of her ties to the electrical-terrorists, the leader of whom sports an anglepoise lamp for an arm and denounces modern technology (which presumably allowed his bizarre arm transplant) as the devil's handiwork. Lastly, the down-at-heel accountant Kenneth seeks love in the personals and describes himself, somewhat feebly, as a dead ringer for the actor Ted Danson, hitting gold (so he thinks) when he gets a message in return from Danson's biggest fan. Kenneth is easily the most sympathetic of the group and appears to be based entirely on Mike Judge's 'Milton' character from Office Space; he will later tangle with two disagreeable IT workers (stolen shamelessly from British sit-com 'The IT Crowd'), and even creates a 'leisure skin' last seen in Almodóvar's 'Skin I Live In', which produces static electricity for his new lady friend.

All of this seems amusing enough in written form, but watch the film, see it played out straight and you're more likely to just smile, or maybe roll your eyes. The film's biggest laugh is in the trailer and involves a woman who is deadly afraid of spiders confronting her biggest fear just as the latest power outage hits and... see, you can already guess the joke that follows there. The melding of human drama and comedy are a staple of independent cinema. People like Wes Anderson and Woody Allen have made careers from successfully bridging the gap between the bittersweet failings of our sad little race, and the genuinely amusing and life affirming elements of living, albeit with varying results (Darjeeling Limited? Hollywood Ending? Didn't think so). Patrik Eklund's film occasionally hits the right marks but too often settles for meek comedy set-ups and undisciplined, even lazy, character development. Take the boss Tord for example; at first he's a hard drinking and ruthless businessman who bullies his advertisers for sticking to old fashioned modes of communication: "Less Bergman! I want more Crazy Frog stuff!" But give him a moment of reflection towards the last act and he is redeemed by pouring a colleague some of his treasured whiskey, flinging an arm around a shoulder and promising big changes for the future, all while smiling at the portrait of his dead father, presumably the pater who instilled such cruel values, now a figure to bypass in favour of a kindness necessitated purely by a limited running time and the need for a happy ending.

Flicker is really just a nice film about a bunch of nice but misguided people and the camera work, performances, music and message are all pleasant, competent and resolutely amiable. Unfortunately this is where the film falls down. There isn't a single element that stands out, raises expectations or gives us any cause for excitement. I saw Flicker on a very rainy day at 9am and had to travel by bus in rush hour traffic and honestly I would have probably preferred the extra time in bed if I'd known it was this... 'nice'. That's not to say it's a total disaster, as said above it's all well handled and sweet natured, I just wish there had been something in it worth continuing this review for.

Last year I saw a great Norwegian comedy at EIFF called 'Sound Of Noise' about a group of musical renegades who tire of dull muzak and take to the streets to bring around there own brand of musical anarchy, and that film worked on many levels; the characters were charming, the jokes genuinely funny and the direction was strong and imaginative. Furthermore the protagonists had good reason for there frustration: boring music. Here the subversives don't have much of a cause beyond wanting to shake up the status quo and the fringe dwelling sub-plots seem token and napkin-based additions to the overall story. All of this is made slightly more irksome by the insistence of a quirky and upbeat ending that ties everything together. I'd never wished for a full-blown nuclear meltdown to end a comedy but it might have saved this one.

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