Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten)

IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE (Kraftidioten)     B+           
Norway  Sweden  Denmark  (115 mi)  2014  ‘Scope  d:  Hans Petter Moland

I am just a guy who keeps a strip of civilization going through the wilderness.  
—Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård)

In what must be the funniest film of the year, Hans Petter Moland left his mark with A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN (2010), a droll Norwegian comedy starring Stellan Skarsgård as a low key ex-con that comes out of prison after serving a 12-year stint for murdering a man who was having an affair with his wife, where nearly every scene has absurd comic undertones.  Fighting to lead a normal life, which may as well be a Kaurismäki movie, he’s drawn into the role of protector where he discovers old habits are hard to break.  The film was such a success that the two teamed up again (actually their 4th time working together) for another dry Scandinavian comedy where Skarsgård offers another brilliant, off-kilter performance as Nils Dickman.  This time he’s a snowplow driver, a Swedish immigrant who’s the closest thing to being a real Norwegian who was just awarded “Citizen of the Year” for his dedication in clearing the snow off the extremely snowy rural highways in the remote outer reaches of Norway, always seen blasting his way through the lonely mountain roads as the snow goes flying down the steep hills.  His ordinary life takes a sharp turn for the worse when his son turns up dead from an overdose of drugs.  While the police have little incentive to investigate these kinds of cases as so many kids do this to themselves, but Nils is convinced his son wasn’t involved with drugs.  When he accidentally discovers his son’s friend that was involved with drug gangs, he begins his search for the men behind his son’s murder.  With a hilarious script by Danish screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson, who also wrote A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN, this is filmed very much like a Hollywood movie with established stars, only the arctic Scandinavian humor is much funnier, something along the lines of In Bruges (2008) which pokes fun of the morbid mood of professional hit men throughout, while some have hailed this film as “Norway’s response to Fargo (1996),” a bleak comedy the Coen brothers themselves describe as “Siberia with family restaurants.”  Absurdly accentuating an accumulating body count, where after each death their names are printed onscreen next to a cross, as the title suggests, a humorous device that works perfectly from the beginning until a masterful final shot.  Much like the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign on the popular David Lynch TV show Twin Peaks (1990 – 91), this sign says “Welcome to Tyos…” and the rest remains covered in snow.    

Dark, provocative, and utterly sublime, this is one of the more deliciously entertaining films of the year, a revenge saga that strikes a balance between an honest portrayal of criminal brutality while evoking a certain type of disturbing laughter in the wickedly absurd manner that so many characters meet their tragic end.  The sarcastic wit displayed throughout is impressive, especially Moland’s treatment of his own native Norwegians, showcasing petty prejudices and cultural presumptions alongside a litany of one-liners, while at the same time, cameraman Philip Øgaard’s outdoor landscape shots of the snowy mountainous peaks couldn’t be more impressive, where the crunch of the snow is a constant that is heard throughout, where snow is actually one of the most spectacular characters in the film, where the overwhelming presence of white is a stark contrast to such dark deeds taking place onscreen.  Actor Skarsgård claims that he hates cold weather, especially when called upon to perform in sub-zero temperatures when his face muscles are literally paralyzed.  However, no one can doubt the expressive quality that he brings to the film, always one of the more understated performers in the business.  When his son Ingvar is a sacrificial pawn to the drug war, Nils goes on the offensive in a killing spree, targeting several of the men working under The Count, Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen from Kon-Tiki (2012), a particularly nasty piece of work living in a completely modernistic home surrounded by his henchmen, where his blatant offensiveness, not to mention pompous arrogance and often utter stupidity (yet always seen with a smile), is often contrasted against the cool and measured manner of his blond and beautiful ice-princess ex-wife Marit, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen from Marie Krøyer (2012), who continually arrives unannounced reporting the latest court maneuver for child custody rights over their son, who’s unfortunately caught in the middle of an ugly marital squabble, each sharing custody  One of their funniest arguments is over her accusation that he’s a poor parent for feeding their son heavily sugared Fruit Loops cereal, which makes The Count go ballistic, claiming he’s a vegan.  However the beauty of the sequence is watching a Norwegian pronunciation dance around the words, “Fruit Loops,” which is musical comedy in itself, followed by the kid secretly being fed the dreaded cereal by one of the bodyguards, who are collectively helping to raise this kid that his father pays no attention to. 

At this point, the film seems to thrive on mistaken identity, as The Count is sure a rival gang is sending him a message, continually calling them “The Albanians,” though they are a rival Serbian gang led by Bruno Ganz (doing an always hoarse Vito Corleone) as their leader, affectionately known as “Papa,” seen bringing in a tray of take-out coffees for his men during a particularly brutal torture session.  Their home office is a warehouse filled with what appears to be stolen merchandise that collectively resembles a big box retail outlet.  Meanwhile, Nils loses his wife, who leaves a perfectly folded blank piece of paper stuffed in an envelope as her goodbye letter, which seems to jump start a new resolve in Nils to track down every man involved in his son’s murder.  As the two rival gangs blame and target each other, the amusing dialogue of the Serb thugs provides a stream of comical atmosphere throughout the film, suggesting there are no decent welfare systems in sunny cultures, that they only exist in cold Scandinavian climates, while also discussing the benevolence of the Norwegian prison system, where they serve warm food, there’s surprisingly no rapes, and the guards and other prisoners are actually friendly, while also commenting on the Norwegian practice of women picking up dog poo in little plastic bags, where one has to ask quizzically, “What does she do with it later?”  Western customs remain alien to these guys, whose counterparts drink freshly squeezed carrot juice when discussing plans to kill people and drive hybrid electric Fisker Karma cars.  The Count sends a message to the Serbs by killing the son of mob boss Papa, a move that backfires when they realize who the real killer is, which is revealed with such utter simplicity, when one of The Count’s gang states the obvious, “If it was Dickman who killed our people, then the Serbs must be pissed off about the guy we hung on the sign.”  Amidst a gang war set amidst ski resorts and hang-gliding, Nils kidnaps The Count’s son, who actually seems to prefer Nils as a father figure, asking him sheepishly, “Have you ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome?” before asking for a bedtime story, where Nils reads out of the catalogue for the latest model of snowblowers, holding the kid’s rapt attention throughout, seen later riding in the CHRISTINE (1983)-like cab with Nils during the final showdown, shown in a slow-motion choreography of blood and bullets, and just when we think it’s all over, hold on, as there’s still more.

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