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Call Girl: Toronto Review

Call Girl Toronto Film Still - H 2012

The Bottom Line

Swedish crime film uses one girl's descent into prostitution as a window into vast governmental hypocrisy.

Venue

Toronto International Film Festival, Discoveries

Cast

Pernilla August, Simon J Berger, David Dencik, Sven Nordin, Kristoffer Joner

Director

Mikael Marcimain

Mikael Marcimain's drama is inspired by a real-world scandal involving Swedish politicians and prostitution.

TORONTO — A chilly Swedish policier more reminiscent of '70s-era American crime films than Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, Mikael Marcimain's Call Girl lets its righteous detectives toil offscreen for most of its running time, focusing instead on the young girls being exploited in the prostitution ring they're investigating. Long and uningratiating but involving from start to finish, it should find champions on the festival circuit.

Set in Stockholm during the age of ABBA, the film centers on a troubled 14 year-old, Iris (Sofia Karemyr) who routinely sneaks out of the group foster home she's in with friend Sonja (Josefin Asplund). Young and beautiful, they soon catch the attention of well established madam Dagmar Glans (Pernilla August), a motherly figure who, along with somewhat creepier male associates, flatter the girls and seduce them with booze and presents. Soon, they're turning tricks for a stable of clients including men currently running for office in Sweden's general election.

Director Marcimain was second unit director on the recent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy remake, and that film comes to mind immediately as we observe the other side of this story -- the detectives and assorted government officials who meet clandestinely in the rain and on rooftops to either pursue information about Glans's business or try to keep that information hidden.

Unlike Tinker Tailor, though, following the motivations of this group of middle-aged men presents little challenge for the viewer -- once one realizes that practically everyone is dirty, and in fact large groups of officials hire Dagmar and her girls openly, to entertain at dinner meetings. The only man we know to be clean is John Sandberg (Simon J. Berger), a younger, sickly looking vice cop combing through surveillance tapes and anxiously noting when they've been edited before they even reach his desk.

But Sandberg is rarely onscreen for the first 90 minutes or so of this nearly two-and-a-half-hour film, and is rarely speaking when he is. Instead the film observes Iris, highly sympathetic to her discomfort as what begins as something of an adventure (she and Sonja giggle through their first topless dance for a stranger) but soon grows uncomfortable. August makes a classic, unsettling pimp, her warm attitude turning sharply threatening when Iris suggests leaving; hers is the film's standout performance, though her younger costars acquit themselves quite well.

Despite a good deal of nudity and the occasional (joyless) sex scene, Marcimain's tone is never sensationalistic. A steady (some will say dry) mood persists, with the behind-closed-doors action making a mockery of the politicians, who are seen on talk shows and the campaign trail congratulating themselves for the government's enlightened policies regarding women's liberation and evolving sexual mores.

Design and photography capture the era effectively without kitsch, and an excellent synthesizer-heavy score by Mattias Bärjed supplies a bracing, burbling pulse.

Production company: GarageFilm AB
Cast: Sofia Karemyr, Pernilla August, Josefin Asplund, Simon J. Berger, Anders Beckman, David Dencik, Sven Nordin, Kristoffer Joner
Director: Mikael Marcimain
Screenwriter: Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten
Producer: Mimmi Spång
Executive producers: Maria Dahlin, Helena Danielsson
Director of photography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Production designer: Michael Higgins
Music: Mattias Bärjed
Costume designer: Cilla Rörby
Editor: Kristofer Nordin
Sales: TrustNordisk
No rating, 140 minutes