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EDINBURGH — The electricity may be intermittent but the giggles keep on coming in Swedish wunderkind Patrik Eklund‘s daffy debut Flicker (Flimmer). Keeping things on the right side of quirky eccentricity, the Oscar-nominated young writer-director makes a confident transition to shorts to features, reminding us once again that cinema from Europe’s northern fringes isn’t all about Nordic noir or Bergmanesque gloom. Ongoing interest in all things Scandinavian will help this Coens-ish comedy — named best Swedish film at Gothenburg’s festival in January — find plentiful festival action. It’s enough of a crowdpleaser to warrant arthouse distribution in limited territories following a successful international bow in Edinburgh.
Eklund nabbed an Academy Award nod for his 2008 short Instead of Abracadabra and the 33-year-old here displays a lightly magic touch with his tale of a power-outage’s effects on a remote town. Backberga (a picturesque, fictional composite of Boden and Lulea) has long been dominated by a single employer, communications giant Unicom — the firm’s sprawling offices a riot of bygone colors and fabrics courtesy of production designer Anna Paulson. Costumes from Helena Hansson, her palette extending to at least fifty shades of beige, cement the frowzy day-before-yesterday feel.
But change is, belatedly, in the air and perma-tanned boss Tord (Allan Svensson) is — like many of Sweden’s businessmen keen to drag his family’s enterprise into the 21st century. Not all of his employees share his ardor, most notably middle-aged sad-sack Kenneth (Kjell Bergvist), whose problems with technology provide one of numerous droll running gags, and mirror his stumbling efforts at finding romance. Worse is in store for the company’s pair of hapless, laidback electrical engineers, Roland (Jimmy Lindstrom) and Jorgen (Olle Sarri), the former developing a nasty skin-rash as a result of incipient electro-sensitivity, the latter rendered sterile by a sub-station mishap — of uncertain origin — that briefly plunges the entire area into darkness.
Each of the characters suffers from some kind of woes or misfortune which could easily be played for poignant sentimentality, but here provide effectively contrasts to the general air of jauntiness that prevails. The larky inventiveness occasionally threatens to get out of hand, as when Kenneth turns gun-totingly homicidal/suicidal and Roland falls in with a band of Luddite saboteurs led by a mechanical-armed zealot. But Eklund, co-editing with the much more experienced Stefan Sundlöf, segues so zappily and between the various plot-strands that the comic currents provide a steadily uplifting charge. The cast — featuring many Scandinavian veterans — sensibly play things dead straight, anchoring the absurd flights of Eklund’s chirpy fantasy all the way to a persuasively spectacular finale.
Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival
Production company: BOB Film
Cast: Kjell Bergqvist, Allan Svensson, Jacob Nordenson, Anki Larsson, Olle Sarri, Jimmy Lindström
Director / Screenwriter: Patrik Eklund
Producers: Jan Blomgren, Mathias Fjällström
Director of photography: David Grehn
Production designer: Anna Paulson
Costume designer: Helena Hansson
Music: John Erik Kaada
Editors: Stefan Sundlöf, Patrik Eklund
Sales Agent: Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
No rating, 99 minutes.
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