A standout during Critic's Week at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Norwegian director Jens Lien's feature is an absurdly funny dystopian allegory that can proudly hold its own next to Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451 and Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL.
With his rumpled suit, unkempt beard and baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes, Andreas Ramsfjellf (Trond Fausa Aurvaag) steps off an otherwise empty motor coach at dilapidated service station in the middle of nowhere. He's greeted by a stranger who, its clear from the "Welcome" banner he's strung up, has been expecting him. The stranger drives Andreas past the outskirts of the dry, rocky terrain and into a lush, green terrain where happy couples play badminton and everyone smiles. The stranger hands Andreas the keys to his new apartment and the address of Andreas's new employer, a large contracting firm downtown where he'll be working as an accountant. The following morning, Andreas shaves his beard, dresses in one of the several suits he finds in his closet and reports to work in the modern office building where he's greeted by Havard (Johannes Joner), his unusually accommodating new boss. Everything about Andreas's new life seems perfect, but during his lunch hour he begins to sense that something's not quite right. No one seems to notice the man who's impaled himself on the spiked wrought-iron fence, not even when the men who've been sent to remove the body accidentally disembowel him. That night at a bar, Andreas notices that no matter how much alcohol he consumes, he's no less sober. When he mentions the fact to a stranger in the men's room, a voice from within a stall tells him that alcohol isn't the pleasure to have lost its effect: Food no longer has any taste or smell. The follow day at work, Andreas submits to a perverse impulse to stick his finger in an industrial strength paper-cutter and shears his digit completely off. His coworkers react with a strangely calm concern before he passes out; when comes to, Andreas finds that his finger has somehow reattached itself and is now completely healed. When Andreas returns to the old service station and attempts to follow a newly arrived bus back out of the desert, he finds that it simply vanishes in a trail of dust, its tire tracks suddenly stopping. What, exactly, is this place, and why is Andreas here?
Interestingly, these questions are never answered. Lien's handsomely produced -- and cheerfully gory -- film unfolds in a world utterly devoid of individuality, sensual pleasure and interest. There's no music; sex is perfunctory and soulless; and conversations, while polite, are utterly banal and inevitably revolve around interior design (when Andreas tries to talk about a dream he's had, his new girlfriend reacts as if he insulted her). Most frightening of all, almost everyone is happy all of the time. It's a nightmare world that that's not too far from our own, but like any good satirist, Lien's doesn't belabor the point with broad statements and obvious metaphors. Instead he shows us a widely wished-for place that's perfectly in accord with magazine layouts and catalogue lifestyles, and is perfectly horrible in its own quiet way. (In Norwegian, with English subtitles.)
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