'Hotell': Helsinki Review
Group therapy, via credit card
Group therapy meets the minibar in Lisa Langseth's Hotell, an eccentric look at five anxious adults who take a vacation from themselves when usual therapeutic tactics aren't cutting it. Navigating a dicey combination of themes and personalities more successfully than one might predict, the picture will eventually touch many of its viewers who aren't alienated by its introductory focus on the troubles of a privileged, self-centered young mother. It should play well on VOD after a healthy festival run.
Alicia Vikander (to be seen next year in Guy Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot) initially looks like the film's sole protagonist: Erika, for whom pregnancy is just another lifestyle accessory to be delivered at her convenience — the tantrum she throws upon going into labor two weeks before her planned C-section will set many viewers against her — sinks into a depression when she gives birth to a possibly deaf, brain-damaged boy.
Refusing to visit the infant in the hospital and on the brink of divorce with her patient but deeply frustrated husband, Erika has a eureka moment in a group therapy session: When another member, painfully shy Ann-Sofi (Mira Eklund), says how desperately she wants to take a time-out from her own life, to enter another one as if checking into a hotel, Erika realizes that this is a personal-growth experience she can buy. She checks herself and four group members into a high-end hotel, then keeps the meter running after one night proves productive but hasn't left them ready for the world.
If Langseth recognizes the class issues inherent in her premise, in which a gold-card-wielding woman facilitates the rapid healing of some fairly damaged souls, she leaves them for viewers to critique on their own. Those who aren't bothered, or can put the consumerism behind them, may quickly come to appreciate the way these patients team up to work through each others' issues, each fully accepting of the other. Rikard, for instance, gets to exorcize his fear of disappointing Mommy by having his new friends tie him up and torture him. (Needy, nervous David Dencik is memorable in the part.) Some of the exercises are more plausible than others, but Langseth and editor Elin Projts keep disbelief at bay by cutting away from each before reality sets in. They linger provocatively long, though, in an interaction between Rikard and Erika that serves a purpose for both while threatening to cause havoc by turning weirdly sexual.
Havoc does eventually arrive, as the five patients get into a couple of pretty contrived conflicts with another set of hotel guests. While the sequence is plenty artificial, its climactic fight finally gives Vikander a chance to dig into her character's supressed pain in a way that stops things cold. The moment is raw enough to make subsequent scenes feel like a genuine breakthrough.
Production company: En-B-Reel
Cast: Alicia Vikander, David Dencik, Anna Bjelkerud, Mira Eklund, Henrik Norlen, Simon J. Berger
Director-Screenwriter: Lisa Langseth
Producers: Patrik Andersson, Frida Jonason
Executive producers: Fredrik Heinig, Mattias Nohrborg
Director of photography: Simon Pramsten
Production designer: Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth
Costume designer: Lisa Holmqvist
Editor: Elin Projts
Music: Johan Berthling, Andreas Soderstrom
No rating, 99 minutes