Stockholm: Film Review

Caballo Films
An unsettling, minimalist meditation on the hidden dangers of teen romance, which signals its director as someone who's already marked out his own distinctive style.

Rodrigo Sorogoyen's crowdfunded, cultish second feature won multiple awards at the 2013 Malaga festival and has generated much positive buzz.

About halfway through Rodrigo Sorogoyen's thoughtful, carefully-worked second feature, Stockholm, what at first looks like a dialogue-heavy standard teen romance becomes something far more chilling and interesting. Essentially a low-budget, theatrical-looking two-hander about what the word “love” means now, the film is potently stripped-back on all levels, and although its second act is far stronger than its first, and though rising Spanish actress Aura Garrido tends to outperform her opposite number, it remains both stylish and unsettling. Stockholm has been designed with smart teens and early 20-somethings in mind, and has achieved minor cult status in Spain, suggesting that further fest invitations seem likely.

The movie opens with a standard conversation between guys at a night club (it's during this conversation that the title is mentioned for the first and last time, one of several self-consciously arty touches that distract rather than engage). Javier Pereira (known simply as He, the abstract character naming is similarly pretentious) approaches She (Garrido) and forthrightly declares that he's in love with her. Initially she rejects him, but he persists, following her for a Before Sunrise-type chat about life and love around the deserted, glistening late-night streets of Madrid, strikingly and memorably captured as a place of romance by director of photography Alex de Pablo.

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The dialogue throughout the lengthy cat-and-mouse sequence of the first half is perceptive and tiresome by turns, as the edgy, independent-spirited young woman quizzes him about his real motives for his interest in her, and he expertly dresses up his desire for sex with her as real feeling: A lot of what she skeptically asks him surely verbalizes the doubts of insecure young women everywhere. But it's all pretty much in real time, and the fact that they never talk about anything outside themselves and their preoccupations lends it a somewhat artificial, recited air.

This may, of course, be because they -- and especially she -- are disengaged from their emotions, performing roles. And it's this troubling subtext that comes to the fore in the film's second act, which takes place in his apartment during the cold light of day, when everything has changed, and when, after the commitment of sex has happened, that they start for the first time to find out who they really are and that they’re seeking entirely different things. They’ve exchanged a lot of words, but neither has been telling the truth, with dire consequences. During this second stretch, a second meaning of the title -- Stockholm syndrome -- emerges.

Garrido has left her mark on every film she's made so far. A standout when she made her film debut in Juana MaciasPlans for Tomorrow, she gave Jonas Trueba's recent The Wishful Thinkers all its emotional ballast. Brittle but hard-edged here as a young woman who finds herself suddenly and shockingly scorned, her skin like porcelain against the eerily pale walls of his apartment, there’s the sense that she's never far from going over the edge despite the half smile that plays permanently on her lips. When she bangs her head against a mirror and then carefully deposits a small smudge of blood on the wall, all sorts of possibilities arise; at times, it feels like this is going to become a bargain basement Fatal Attraction, but thankfully Stockholm doesn’t go there.

As a guy whose emotional range consists of either on or off, Pereira comes across more as a foil to Garrido than as her dramatic equal. He's a little geeky, a little bland and more than a little annoying; the actor’s popularity in Spain makes him a smart choice at home, but reactions to him are likely to be more ambiguous elsewhere.

De Pablo cleverly uses camera angles to generate a subtle sense of disturbance, with hand-held footage kept to a minimum as he seeks out the memorable image. Almost imperceptible rumblings, which may or may not be part of the film's world, run through the second half. The standout moment, and practically the only one that’s dialogue-free, is the one which signals the turning point -- a well-achieved, almost balletic slow motion sequence featuring an elevator and the spirited final moments of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie. The final credits include the names of all of the hundreds of the project's micro-investors.

Production: Caballo Films, Tourmalet Films, Morituri
Cast: Aura Garrido, Javier Pereira
Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Screenwriters: Sorogoyen, Isabel Pena
Producers: Borja Soler, Maria Jesus del Amo, Eduardo Villanueva, Alberto del Campo, Sorogoyen
Director of photography: Alex de Pablo
Production designer: Juantxo Divasson
Editor: Alberto del Campo
Sound: Raul Valdes, Roberto Fernandez
Wardrobe: Lorena Puerto
Sales: Caballo Films
No rating, 91 minutes

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