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An ultra-deadpan comic road movie set in contemporary Sweden, writer-director Jonas Selberg Augustsen’s debut fictional feature owes an unabashedly overt debt to the cultish early films of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki. Shot in exquisite monochrome, mostly in painstakingly composed static shots punctuated by black screens, The Garbage Helicopter is the work of an embryonic auteur with obvious technical skill and visual flair, even if his heavily mannered style will likely irritate as many people as it delights. World premiered at London Film Festival last week, this low-budget Sweden-Qatar co-production is firmly pitched at cine-literate festival audiences, where it could build enough positive word-of-mouth buzz for modest theatrical breakout.
The helicopter of the title is more mythical than real, a lost-in-translation piece of folklore that recurs several times in the margins of the story. The slender plot centers on Enesa (Jessica Szoppe), Saska (Daniel Szoppe) and Baki (Christopher Burjanski), three twentysomething siblings who embark on a marathon 700-mile road trip across Sweden to return an antique clock to their elderly grandmother Sirpa (Singoalla Millon). Their episodic journey is surreal but mostly uneventful, with recurring dry jokes about crossword puzzles, speed cameras, bubble wrap and giant cheese slicers. A minor collision with a cow is an early dramatic highlight.
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But the excitement steps up a gear in the second half when the trio are carjacked by masked art thieves on the run from a big heist, which leads to an uncomfortably close encounter with the police. Edvard Munch’s The Scream is a visual motif here, a wry nod to the theft of one of four versions of the painting from an Oslo museum in 2004. When the travelers finally arrive at their grandmother’s house, Augustsen unleashes a heavily symbolic dream sequence that suggests he may harbor Bergman-esque levels of artistry within him. Understated jokes planted right from the opening scenes finally bear fruit in elegant pay-offs, delayed gratification rendering them all the sweeter.
The Garbage Helicopter initially seems to be a lightweight exercise in style, too self-consciously whimsical to leave any deeper impression. But there are subtle currents at work behind the blank surface. All the main characters are ethnically Roma, still a persecuted minority across much of Europe, which adds extra weight to several scenes, from a somber mooch around a Holocaust museum to a rowdy encounter with a patriotic saloon-bar drunk. Strangers routinely address the three protagonists in English until they wearily confirm they speak Swedish, a running joke which becomes a wry commentary on casual anti-immigrant racism.
Minimalist, monochrome and mostly monosyllabic, The Garbage Helicopter offers little in the way of character development, the inner lives of its protagonists or any sense of backstory beyond the immediate events on screen. For this reason, some may find this quirky debut as insubstantial and hipster-ish as the early Jarmusch movies it seems to ape. Even so, it is consistently amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny, and full of strikingly poetic touches. Anders Bohman’s ravishing cinematography and Jan Sandstrom’s lush, lyrical, orchestral score help to reinforce the sense that Augustsen is borrowing fruitfully from the lexicon of cinema’s golden age.
Production company: Bob Film
Cast: Christopher Burjanski, Daniel Szoppe, Jessica Szoppe, Singoalla Millon
Director, screenwriter: Jonas Selberg Augustsen
Cinematographer: Anders Bohman
Editor: Nils Moström
Producers:Andreas Emanuelsson, Jan Blomgren
Music: Jan Sandström
Sales company: Bob Film, Stockholm
No rating, 99 minutes
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