EFTI, 115 min., Dir. Tomas Alfredson, Sweedish with English Sub- and Super-titles, available on Netflix Instant Queue
Something about this film resonates with those of us who have lived in a place where there is a desolate winter, which is anyone in Chicago. There is a strange sense of foreboding provided by the deserted natural landscapes, reinforced by the performances and carefully calculated presentation of the child actors in the lead roles. Every detail is attended to, and there is no escaping the longing for a sense of relief at every moment in the film: a sense that everything will be sorted out. The tension is exquisite.
It probably doesn’t hurt that I watched this film during a thunderstorm, which provided the appropriate, morose backdrop, occasionally punctuated with thunder claps for effect. The settings and shots are beautiful, but in an eerie way which reminds one that the starkness of the architecture and landscape mirrors the emotional climate of the characters, cold and subdued.
The innocence and desperation of the protagonist, a 12 year old boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) contrasts with the need for attachment and understanding by the young vampire, a “twelve year old” “girl” named Eli (Lina Leandersson). Oskar is tormented by bullies and emboldened by Eli to defend himself, the irony resting in the fact that the timid girl who prescribes retaliation is herself a merciless predator.
It plays out in a way that should not be ruined for viewers, so I won’t talk further of the plot. Of vampire movies, which I rightly or wrongly consider myself a burgeoning aficionado, I highly recommend it. The plot action and acting is straight as an arrow, so don’t expect laughs outside of the infrequent comic relief. Vampire rules are redefined along conventional lines, so there’s no learning curve. I hate to bring up Nadja since I will reference that in my Bowie roundup, but the lighting and shots in the film are similar. There is an effort (in my opinion) to avoid face shots in scenes in order to build contrast between the activities of the everyday and the visually stunning shots that break into the consciousness of the viewer later in the film.
The setting and sense of place in the film are unusual. I wasn’t sure for a while whether this film takes place in the late 70’s / early 80’s, or whether props and wardrobe are meant to convey social class (e.g. Napoleon Dynamite). There are some political hints tossed in, but my Swedish history is a bit rusty. I couldn’t really pinpoint the language either, which was a distraction since I felt I was missing some supporting details that a European viewer might pick up on.
I felt throughout the whole movie that there was an unsettling undercurrent surrounding each character. In that way, the film was very Hemingway-esque. You saw just enough of the characters to interject your own back story, rather than sitting through an extra hour of film. This is really a film that you should see for yourself, so I’ll recommend a viewing.