A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Jens Lien, 2006, Norway/Iceland, 95mins, Norwegian with subtitles
Cast: Trond Fausa AurvŚg, Petronella Barker, Per Schaanning, Birgitte Larsen
Jens Lienís new film, The Bothersome Man, opens with a kiss that succinctly establishes the tone for what follows. Itís a long, squelching, masticating kiss, but the coupleís eyes are wide open. Like the rest of the film, itís both hilarious and disconcerting, because it is so close to our world, but so utterly at odds with it.
The film is about Andreas (AurvŚg), a middle-aged man who arrives on a bus at a shack in a wasteland with no idea how he got there. He is driven to an impeccably neat city, and given a flat and a job. He moves in with a pleasant woman, who sells kitchen interiors. Itís all very nice. But, like the kiss, something isnít right. There are no extremes, conflicts, or emotions Ė as Andreas pines, desires, falls in love, gets angry and eventually despairs, the world remainsÖ nice. It offers only an insipid, baffled smile, and the incessant niceness becomes a nightmare.
The Bothersome Man is a hugely entertaining, but equally thought-provoking, film about a society in which the creases have been ironed out. You canít get drunk, and no one gets upset by anything. The break-up of a relationship is no more than a mild discomfort, and the height of pleasure seems to be the rearrangement of the living room furniture. Certainly, this provides a profound security Ė nothing is any great risk Ė but by removing all the negatives in life, the positives lose their meaning too. Itís an illustration of the paradox of trying to construct a perfect world: if thereís never a chance of anything ever going wrong, how is anything ever an achievement?
Lienís technical construction of the film is meticulous, and brilliantly creates the lukewarm atmosphere of this flavourless world. The palette of colours is a narrow spectrum of washed out blues, muted silvers, dull golds, and shades of grey, and details, such as the monotonous beeping of the street-sweeping vehicles in the background, are haunting. The one glimpse we get of a world beyond is therefore at once heart-warming and heart-breaking, with its mess of reds and greens, the sound of waves and children's laughter, and a crayon-scrawled drawing on the wall.
The score too is terrific Ė and effective Ė dominated by big, emotional, orchestral pieces by the Romantic Norwegian composer, Edvard Greig. It contrasts starkly with the world it sweeps above, hinting at an alternative vision of what life can be like. But itís the performance of Trond Fausa AurvŚg, as Andreas, that perhaps does most to carry the mixture of tragedy and comedy. His face is the sad and laughable face of a clown, expressive in every minute movement, modulating imperceptibly between deadpan hilarity and anguish.
The film is not flawless: even at ninety minutes, the material is a little uncomfortably stretched, and Andreasís desperate and unsuccessful attempts to deal with his life are confusing, in terms of meaning. But itís a film that will stay with you, both for its humour, and its familiar, yet horrific, depiction of society.