'Amateurs' ('Amatorer'): Film Review | Rotterdam 2018

International Film Festival Rotterdam
Not quite pro.

Swedish writer-director Gabriela Pichler's sophomore feature opened and won top honors at the Gothenburg Film Festival, bowing at the Dutch equivalent in between.

A trio of lively lead performances can't quite compensate for more fundamental shortcomings in Gabriela Pichler's blandly titled Amateurs (Amatorer), the Swedish writer-director's slightly belated follow-up to her widely screened debut Eat Sleep Die (2012). A good-natured satire on small-town provincialism set in the country's rural west, it opened the Gothenburg Film Festival and went on to win the lucrative prize for best Nordic film, worth a cool $126,000. In between, it bowed internationally at Rotterdam, where reactions were generally more measured. Further festival play is likely, but theatrical exposure looks to be decidedly limited beyond Scandinavian territories.

Herself the daughter of Bosnian and Austrian immigrants, Pichler shows how conservative Swedish culture has been considerably enlivened by those of foreign ancestry. Each of her main three characters — nice-guy local politician Musse (Fredrik Dahl) and teenage BFFs Dana (Yara Ebrahim Eliadotter) and Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) — is very far from the blonde-hair/blue-eyed Scandi stereotype, but integration doesn't seem to be any kind of problem in their (fictional) community of Lafors.

The financial situation isn't so heartening, however, and news of possible investment from a German supermarket chain sets the town council into a froth of excitement. Complications ensue when they learn that Lafors is just one of two possible sites being considered for the new store, and they decide to produce a promotional video advertising the delights and possibilities of the area. Musse's visit to a high school brings him into contact with Dana and Aida, who think nothing of documenting nearly every aspect of their lives with their smartphones. But hopes that the pair might be "budding Bergmans" prove overly optimistic.

Amateurs gets off to a promisingly rambunctious start, plunging us directly into Lafors' annual wild-west weekend with frisky hand-held camerawork and the accompaniment of rousing country music. And the early stretches are energetic and larkish, deriving much of their flinty, spiky appeal from the youthful female stars' peppy, defiant personalities.

By the halfway stage, however, the country-and-western angle has long been dispensed with and events take darker, more serious and even sentimental turns. The big countdown to the arrival of the German representatives, which gives Amateurs its narrative structure and momentum, rapidly fizzles into bathos when the delegation actually arrives, and a coda in which Dana and Aida show the townsfolk their movie — which turns out to be implausibly far from amateurish — concludes proceedings on a somewhat strange, unsatisfying note.

Pichler and her fellow screenwriter Jonas Hassen Khemiri never quite find a way to balance their story's comical and more downbeat flavors, while the efforts of three credited editors (including Pichler) only end up making the results feel even more disjointed. Amateurs overstays its welcome at more than 100 minutes — ironic, given that it culminates with the public screening of a film whose duration proves unbearable for the vast majority of its viewers. Not so much "budding Bergmans" as new Lav Diazes in embryo. One is more than enough!

Production company: Garagefilm International
Cast: Yara Ebrahim Eliadotter, Zahraa Aldoujaili, Fredrik Dahl
Director: Gabriela Pichler
Screenwriters: Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Gabriela Pichler
Producer: Anna-Maria Kantarius
Executive producers: Rebecka Lafrenz, Mimmi Spang
Cinematographer: Johan Lundborg
Production designer: Ellen Oseng
Costume designer: Sandra Woltersdorf
Editors: Johan Lundborg, Andreas Nilsson, Gabriela Pichler
Casting director: Archana Khanna
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR Live)
Sales: LevelK, Copenhagen (lauren@levelk.dk)

In Swedish (some English, Arabic, Tamil, German, Bosnian, Romanian)
102 minutes