'A Hustler's Diary': Film Review | Rotterdam 2017

Courtesy of International Film Festival Rotterdam
A good read.

Can Demirtas stars in and co-wrote the second feature by Croatian-Swedish filmmaker Ivica Zubak.

A small-time crook tries to turn a new literary leaf in Ivica Zubak's appealing Swedish comedy-drama A Hustler's Diary (Maste Gitt), which showcases a breakout turn by star/co-writer Can Demirtas. A notable audience success when world premiering at Rotterdam, the Stockholm-set crowdpleaser should make a decent impact at Nordic box offices and score plentiful festival play further afield.   

Born in Yugoslav-era Croatia, director/co-writer Zubak fled his nation's civil war with his family as a pre-teen. His films, including 2009 feature Dreams, tend to focus on the experience of his fellow Swedes of foreign origin or ancestry, such as the unlikely-looking hero of A Hustler's Diary: crop-haired, pudgy-faced, thirtyish Metin (Demirtas), who is of Turkish descent. Still living with his widowed mother Fatma (Selma Caglar) and adoring teenage brother Emre (Toni-Prince Tvrtkovic) in the concrete projects of Jordbro suburb, Metin bumps along with an unremunerative criminal career which he chronicles in a battered notebook.

As glimpsed in prolog flashbacks, Metin's late dad impressed upon his young son three criteria for manhood: fathering a child, planting a tree and writing a book. The latter ambition inadvertently edges closer to reality after Metin's journal reaches the hands of Puma (Jorgen Thorsson), editor at a respectable literary publishing company.

Worrywart Metin frets over the potential consequences for his gangland cohorts if their exploits attract the attention of the authorities because of his tell-all tome. Puma and company, meanwhile, become convinced that they've stumbled across an accidental star author from the wrong side of the tracks. As classes and cultures clash, Metin's two-fisted temper lands him in increasingly hot water.

Zubak and Demirtas score by ensuring that Metin is an engaging, sympathetic and amusing lead despite his macho-traditional views (he's outraged when learning that his middle-aged mom has a new beau) and occasional violent outburst. Perhaps drawing inspiration from the startling rise of Palestinian-Danish poet Yahya Hassan, which made headlines across Scandinavia and beyond a few years back, their story takes its place in a respectable cinematic sub-genre of crooks-turned-authors that includes John Flynn's Best Seller (1987) and Andrew Dominik's Chopper (2000).

The vividly sketched "immigrant" milieu, however, recalls recent Middle Eastern-flavored Scandi notables like Josef Fares' Jalla! Jalla! (2000), Omar Shargawi's Go With Peace, Jamil (2008) and Fenar Ahmad's Flow (2014). Pan-European debates about immigration, national identity and integration are, meanwhile, currently more prominent in the cultural discourse than ever. This endows A Hustler's Diary with a certain topical tang, though Zubak and Demirtas are chiefly concerned with etching a lively three-dimensional character-study against a convincing, detailed social background. 

With slangy, authentic-sounding, slang-spiced dialogue (the original title is argot roughly meaning "gotta split") and an engagingly varied gallery of characters, A Hustler's Diary is shot in a wintry, slightly bleached-out palette by cinematographer Erik Vallsten. Making a quietly auspicious fiction-feature debut after a full decade of documentaries, Vallsten goes the hand-held widescreen route to evoke Metin's volatile world with intimacy, sensitivity, and plenty of street-smart zap.

Production company: Indian Summer
Cast: Can Demirtas, Lena Endre, Jorgen Thorsson, Selma Caglar, David Nzinga, Shebly Niavarani, Toni-Prince Tvrtkovic
Director: Ivica Zubak
Screenwriters: Can Demirtas, Ivica Zubak
Producer: Abbe Hassan
Cinematographer: Erik Vallsten
Production designer: Kajsa Alman
Costume designer: Mimmi Maenpaa
Editor: Rickard Krantz
Composer: Filip Runesson
Casting director: Pauline Hansson
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam
Sales: TriArt Film, Stockholm, Sweden (info@triart.se)

In Swedish with some Turkish

98 minutes