Sonntag, 7. Dezember 2014


Spanish writer/director Rodrigo Sorogoyen's feature debut "Stockholm" is basically a "Before Sunrise"-redux until... well, it isn't. And it's exactly the deviant third act that, while still not quite saving the picture, makes it suddenly, undeniably interesting.

The movie begins at a private party. We don't need to wait long before guy (Javier Pereira) catches sight of girl (Aura Garrido) and swiftly makes his move. Instead of a self-introduction, he immediately professes his love for her. At this point, the receiver of that blunt declaration and the audience probably both take it as a cute, if not particularly tactful pick-up line. But then the very persistent hero follows up on his word as he chases after the apparently reluctant, home-bound object of his affection with borderline stalker-ish tenacity. Displaying inexhaustible enthusiasm and good cheer, he makes jokes, pokes fun at himself, talks in flowery circles while never forgetting to remind her of his his love. And certainly enough, cracks in the girl's stalwart wall of denial start to show. Soon things get playful, they end up at his place, "deeper" questions about life get asked, there's even a scene on the rooftop terrace at dawn, with dreamy indie pop lacing a shot of two beautiful skulls from behind.

By now you think: Oh, so it's "that" kind of film. Love at first sight, unsolicited, inexplicable connection, finding unlikely soul mate in the middle of the night etc. And you'd also be forgiven to think: Well, as a straight-up, unapologetic romance this isn't very good, is it? The dialogue, while mostly authentic-sounding, neither covers the width nor possesses the depth to make a case for the instant fireworks and send hearts on and off-screen aflutter. The acting is unremarkable. One might argue Pereira manages to keep the intentions of his atypically chivalrous character unknowable, but, judged on its own merits, the performance is endearingly if smarmily one-note. The direction also underwhelms. Drawn-out, chatty strolls have been done to much more engaging effect, and some of his bolder choices, like the comically slo-mo-ed, orchestrally accompanied elevator scene ending the night-long pursuit in a swoop of theatrical affluence, just don't work.

But then the third act begins.

It's the morning after. As the girl goes through the room she just slept in with post-coital tenderness, we the audience also realize for the first time how little we truly know about the guy. And if the subtle changes in the dynamics between the two don't inform you of upcoming surprises yet, a subsequent scene in the compulsively white bathroom will surely jolt you awake. After that slap of a moment, previously hidden, unappetizing sides of these attractive, seemingly unassailable people enjoying the prime of their youth bubble to the surface, and the story switches in an unexpectedly, distinctly unpleasant direction.

As hinted above, this last half hour or so ultimately isn't enough to redeem the whole thing from its general feel of unrefinement. While it successfully engineers a sharp twist and sustains formidable dramatic tension over some impressive minutes, that all-decisive stroke of genius tying everything together in a deadly knot is still missing. What it does, though, is turning the tables on what could be perceived as a lack of character building and actually using that as ammo in its questioning of the validity of love in the digital age. Can you get to know someone at all when individuals are rendered so anonymous and needs are so easily met? From total strangers to intimate partners, after hours of courting and probing, we can't even be sure of the protagonists' names. The girl's is never mentioned and the guy's, provided once with great reluctance, is in hindsight probably a fabrication. We don't know what condition the girl is suffering from and if that's the cause of her hostile stance later on. We don't know the relationship status of the guy and whether or not that's the reason for his change of attitude, as the girl surmises. Here the filmmaker, aided by two actors who flip their portrayals of blandly likable personas with conviction, sneakily weaponizes all that we don't know to make a chilling point: Essentially, what it boils down to in the superficial, no-strings-attached ritual of metropolitan dating is a risky game of truth and lies.

Such finer points of the film end up, in the absence of thoroughly studied plotting and expressive directing, more implied than delivered. And whether that ending is legitimately shocking or just plain lazy, would most likely be divisive much like the one in Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski's "Ida" was. Add to that the less than glowing technical aspects, including the distractingly poor voice-dubbing, a particular blow to such a dialogue-heavy film, and it's safe to say the micro-budgeted drama is probably only for the consumption of open-minded viewers especially susceptible to good ideas and ready to work for them after the curtain falls.

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