The Crown Jewels (Kronjuvelerna): Berlin Film Review

The Crown Jewels Berlin Film Still - H 2012
Magical-realist Swedish fable falls awkwardly between adult and teenage markets. 

The offbeat Swedish fantasy co-stars Alicia Vikander, Bill Skarsgård and Björn Gustafsson.

Opulently offbeat Swedish fantasy The Crown Jewels (Kronjuvelerna) feels overstuffed even at two hours -- unsurprising, as this theatrical version is a boiling-down of the three-hour, three-episode cut shown on domestic TV at Christmas. Only a lukewarm performer at the nation's box-office in midsummer, when it was easily bested by imported fare such as Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean, this colorfully episodic oddity is an even dicier prospect abroad. Despite being a very visual enterprise ideally experienced on the biggest of screens, small-screen sales for the multiepisode cut seem the strongest possibility given the ongoing global fascination for Scandinavian product.

The rising international profile of young stars Alicia Vikander and Bill Skarsgård -- son of Stellan, brother of Alexander -- is a handy plus for this €5m production that picked up three Guldbagge awards (for costume design, visual effects and set design) at Sweden's equivalent of the Oscars. But in most countries, its content will be seen as both too dark and edgy for kids -- not least because of the frank, very Scandinavian way it touches on sexual matters -- and too whimsically inconsequential for adults.

Carina Dahl's screenplay is based on material she originally wrote for TV in the 1990s, trimmed down here in collaboration with director Ella Lemhagen -- whose 2008 success Patrik, Age 1.5 starred Bill Skarsgård's older brother Gustaf. It begins in classic film noir fashion with a nighttime confrontation outside a fancy mansion that leaves twentyish Richard Persson (Skarsgård) -- the only offspring of the house's wealthy owner -- lying, apparently dead, in a pool of blood. Found at the crime scene with a gun in her hand, Fragancia Fernandez (Vikander) is arrested and interrogated at the police station by world-weary Inspector Samnerud (Tomas von Brömssen).

Fragancia demands that the Inspector must believe everything that she's about to tell him -- and then spins a wild yarn full of unlikely events and quasi-mystical happenings, all set in and around the remote village where Fragancia and Richard grew up as contemporaries. Crucial to this wacky narrative are Fragancia's irrepressible alchemist-inventor father Fernandez Fernandez (Michalis Koutsogiannakis), her younger brother Jesus (Jesper Lindberger), who has Down Syndrome, and town heartthrob Petersson-Jonsson (Björn Gustafsson), who grows up to be the world's greatest -- and most balletic -- ice hockey player.

The Crown Jewels -- a title that is, frustratingly, never mentioned or explained -- presents itself as an implausibly tall tale told by an unreliable, emotionally disturbed narrator. The world Fragancia conjures up is a timeless, mildly fantastical one that is recognizably set in rural Sweden but which seems to take place in a epoch combining elements of every post-WWII decade. Every euro spent on the production is up there on the screen, though in a crowded, slightly suffocating way. This project cries out for the 3D treatment, right from the opening titles, which have a deliberately stereoscopic effect.

The picture's wayward tonal shifts, meanwhile, would require an in-form Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton or Jean-Pierre Jeunet to hold them together in satisfying fashion. Lemhagen instead veers between comic, romantic, tragic, sinister and farcical moods, sometimes within the same scene. The scattershot approach only intermittently hits its intended targets, at a couple of junctures descending into schmaltzy sentimentality. 

The slightly exotic-looking Vikander, soon to be seen -- again alongside Bill Skarsgård -- in Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, is always an intriguing and expressive presence, however, her sultry grace commanding our attention even as the picture wobbles in and out of control around her. 

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Generation)
Production companies: Filmlance International
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Bill Skarsgård, Björn Gustafsson, Jesper Lindberger, Michalis Koutsogiannakis
Director: Ella Lemhagen
Screenwriters: Ella Lemhagen, Carina Dahl  
Producers: Tomas Michaelsson, Lars Blomgren
Executive producers: Gunnar Carlsson. Christian Wikander, Jessica Ask, Lone Korslund
Director of photography: Anders Bohman
Production designer: Roger Rosenberg
Costumes: Moa Li Lemhagen Schalin  
Editor: Thomas Lagerman
Music: Fredrik Emilson
Sales agent: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark
No rating, 121 minutes