Monday, October 14, 2013

Stockholm Stories (Gondolen)

STOCKHOLM STORIES (Gondolen)       B-            
Sweden  (97 mi)  2013  d:  Karin Fahlén           Website

This is another one of those interconnecting stories of disconnected or lost souls whose lives mysteriously intersect, almost like an act of fate, where an improbable impact suddenly adds the missing ingredient in what are initially conceived as socially challenged, over-analyzed characters.  Woody Allen may be the premiere director at superimposing his real life nebbish personality into comedies of anxiety, where he often makes fun of his various neuroses, as do many of his film characters, none better than Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow.  Swedish director Karin Fahlén’s first feature film is a comedy where the common thread is over-analysis, where characters spend way too much time thinking about themselves, often with disastrous results.  While the Swedes have always had an unhealthy rivalry with neighboring countries, especially the Danes, perhaps these characters have been overly affected by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkagaard, as they all feel overwhelmed by a deep case of existential despair.  The film originated from the 2007 collected short stories The Second Goal (Det andra målet) by writer/actor Jonas Karlsson, where a recurring theme is isolated or lonely individuals, most of whom are trying to hide the fact that they are alone.  Adapted by the director, she connects six of these characters together, creating a series of interwoven stories that take place in and around Stockholm.  The director’s parents both worked in Swedish films of the 60’s, her mother with Olle Hellbom and Tage Danielsson, and her father with Ingmar Bergman, Bo Widerberg, and Roy Andersson, while Karin initially studied to become a make up artist at Stockholm’s Dramatiska Institutet, also wrote screenplays and worked as a director’s assistant prior to making her first feature film. 

Much of this comedy relies upon absurd humor, with dark underlying elements, where Stockholm is often seen as a dark, foreboding place, often shot in overcast grays, though overall a lighter tone prevails, making this ensemble comedy very audience friendly.  Perhaps the center of it all is Johan (Martin Wallström), a delusional and manically obsessed would-be writer trying to find his way out of his father’s footsteps, as his father was a revered writer, but Johan tries to worm his way into the public’s eye through nefarious means.  His big theory relies upon the removal of light, being plunged into darkness, thinking only then can people really discover one another.  Anna (Julia Ragnarsson), Johan’s sister, is seen being indiscreetly thrown out of a hotel by Thomas (Jonas Karlsson), an uptight, overly reserved guy who is more of a bootlicker that lives to please his boss, Lena (Marie Richardson), the Minister of Finance, usually eliminating problems through underhanded and cruelly devised means.  Meanwhile Douglas (Filip Berg), is the stuttering trust fund child still living at home with his sanity challenged parents, and secretly has a crush on Anna, who we discover is the lesbian lover of Lena.  Then last, but not least, is Jessica (Cecilia Frode), a kind of Swedish Diane Wiest, with floppy blond hair looking a bit like the Rolling Stones Brian Jones.  We see her heartbroken after being denied the right to adopt, as they questioned her entirely absent network of friends.  She works at an advertising agency, working best when left alone. 

Overhearing one of her coworkers talk about a gag they pulled years ago, Jessica points her finger to a name at random in the phone book, and then mails that person an anonymous letter, which turns out to be Thomas, who becomes rabidly obsessed with receiving a letter from someone he doesn’t even know.  Following her, literally stalking her, cornering her at her apartment doorway, she refuses to acknowledge she sent the letter, where briefly they are divided only by a pane of glass.  Anna has been thrown out into the street and is none too happy about it, but her pride coerces Lena to come clean about her sexual preference with her husband, or she’ll tell him.  Douglas, meanwhile, is his demented father’s whipping boy, taking refuge with Anna, following her wherever she goes, as neither one of them seems to have a friend in the entire world.  Meanwhile, Johan is still on the loose, a madman using a writer’s persona, who unravels feverishly with his eyes set on the Stockholm electrical power plant, threatening to blow it up with a bomb unless they shut down all the lights in Stockholm.  Being Swedish, the maintenance engineers couldn’t be more polite, directing him to the appropriate department where they’re all too happy to oblige, sending Stockholm into the dark.  Afterwards, the world looks a little differently to our motley crew, finding fewer obstacles standing in their way, discovering perhaps a glimpse of light in the continually overcast Stockholm skies. 

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