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Social tensions underpin Scandinavian film


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International film festivals can sometimes offer unexpected insights into the realities of life elsewhere. Underdog, a domestic drama set in Oslo, reveals the social and economic tensions that have beset Norway and Sweden in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

The Norwegian economy is booming, mainly thanks to its North Sea oil reserves, while Sweden is suffering unprecedented financial hardship and high unemployment. It’s no longer the idyllic example of equality and opportunity it once was.

Underdog revolves around Dino, a slatternly 23-year-old from Sweden trying her luck in the Norwegian capital. She lives in a chaotic “Swedes only” flatshare, rarely showers, and whiles away her days in the unemployment office.

Eventually, she finds work as a nanny/housekeeper to Steffen, a former tennis star now running a trendy sushi bar. Steffen’s wife is off working on some earnest project in Africa, leaving him to cope with their daughters – a precocious pre-schooler and a troubled teenager.

Familiarity breeds consent, and soon Steffen and Dino are having a rather lacklustre affair.

There are some nice elements to this film, especially its naturalistic style. Bianca Kronlöf is absolutely believable in the lead role and Mona Kristiansen is touching as Ida, the teen with body issues and eating anxieties.

Unfortunately, those strong performances are undermined by a weak script. There is only one really clever line, so pay attention during the dinner party scene or you’ll miss it.

At least two of the pivotal plot turns are never explained, giving the film a credibility gap. And Henrik Rafaelsen plays Steffen as a man who is largely absent from his own life. That may be as writer-director Ronnie Sandahl intended, but it makes him a rather tiresome character.

Underdog won two international awards last year, at the Chicago and Zurich film festivals. You can see it at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas tomorrow (Friday) for one screening only.

Other films in the Scandinavian Film Festival include a biopic of Ingrid Bergman on closing night (July 29), and Rams (July 25), winner of this year’s Un Certain Regard at Cannes.  There’s also The Absent One (July 26), a cold-case Nordic noir mystery about murder in an exclusive boarding school, but be warned – I found the trailer uncomfortably violent.

The full program for the Scandinavian Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas can be viewed here.


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