Film Review: Mr. Governor

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Forum
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BERLIN -- Behind-the-scenes machinations in local government can, with the right handling, provide material for a fast-moving, pulse-racing documentary -- check out Australia's 1996 "Rats in the Ranks" -- but Sweden's "Mr. Governor" ("H:r Governor") takes a very different tack. Audaciously embracing the potential dullness and dryness of his chosen material, debutant director/DP/editor Mans Mansson invites audiences to do the same. Alluring monochrome cinematography (16mm blown up to 35) sugars the pill somewhat, but this remains quite refined film festival fare whose wider exposure will lie through smaller screens.

Television will, of course, diminish the visual impact that is the picture's consistent strong suit. Tipping his hat to cinema-verite pioneers like D A Pennebaker and Frederick Wiseman, 26-year-old Stockholmer uses only natural light to create black-and-white images that are often much more striking than the mundane goings-on they capture. In contrast to the not entirely dissimilar Czech doc "Citizen Havel" from last year, the presence of the camera and crew is never acknowledged here: We simply and discreetly observe Anders Bjorck, governor of Uppsala province and previously a major player on both national and international stages, as he goes about his duties.

A dapper, soft-spoken gent in his mid-60s, Bjorck exudes the calm sagacity of the stereotypical Scandinavian diplomat, and Mansson is content to simply present his "star" at face value: There are no interviews, no glimpses of his private life, no hints at the man behind the public visage. Then again, the title is "Mr. Governor" rather than "Mr Bjorck," and the film is a quiet celebration of a kind of unfussy, patrician Sweden which has at least one foot in the past. Many of Bjorck's activities are directly related to local and national history, including celebrations to mark the tercentenary of seminal Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who pioneered the classification of animals.

There's no doubting that Bjorck belongs to the rarefied stratum of the genus "politician," just as Mansson's restrained, austere picture is a noteworthy if unspectacular example of the contemporary artistic/sociological documentary. "Mr. Governor" at times comes across as so straight, so baldly direct, that it takes on a paradoxical air of offbeat weirdness ---- the dispassionate camera-eye revealing the bizarreness lurking beneath the most ordinary of human phenomena and behavior.

Production company: Anagram Prods. (Lund, Sweden)
Director: Mans Mansson
Producer: Martin Persson
Director of photography: Mans Mansson
Editor: Mans Mansson
Sales: Anagram, Lund

No rating, 81 minutes