Posted by: gdevi | December 16, 2013

Movie review: The Bothersome Man (2006)

The Bothersome Man (Den Brysomme Mannen). Dir. Jens Lien. Norway. 2006.

If Franz Kafka and Kurt Vonnegut wrote a story together, that would be The Bothersome Man. It is equal parts an existentialist black comedy with a particularly Scandinavian touch, and a dystopian fantasy that is more broadly western and Christian. I don’t know anything about the director Jens Lien, but I like his work, and I like this movie. It is incredibly funny, in places.

The movie begins with the suicide of Andreas Ramsfjell, wonderfully acted by the Norwegian actor Trond Fausa Aurvag, who is waiting for the metro, and who becomes increasingly agitated at the ugly noises made by a kissing couple standing next to him. Finding the kissing unbearable, Andreas jumps into the path of the train, and presumably dies. This entire sequence is incredibly funny and discomforting at the same time, and establishes the tone of the movie, which is pathetic and absurd at the same time. The movie proper begins with Andreas waking up after his death in a bus, where he is the only passenger, and which drops him off in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a vast brown barren desert (shot in the volcanic mountains of Iceland) where an envoy waits especially for him in the one broken down gas station. The man drives Andreas to “the city,” to “his apartment,” gives him his keys, and tells him where he is employed; he is an accountant for a firm downtown. The “city” is greyish blue and filled with middle aged men and women in grey suits working inside towering buildings made of concrete, steel and glass: the modern metropolis. Like Kafka’s heroes, Andreas is puzzled at the way his life (afterlife?) is suddenly arranged for him, and like Kafka’s heroes, he goes along with the plans. How else are you going to find out what it is for, right? I loved these parts of the movie.

Andreas goes to work, meets his boss and his colleagues, who laugh over jokes about furniture. On one such outing, he meets Anne Britt, an interior designer, a woman he takes a liking to, and with whom he starts a relationship as soon as they have sex. He buys a plant. Sex has an allegorical function in this movie. The inhabitants of “the city,” have no emotions whatsoever and spend their entire time buying furniture and things and debating how to paint rooms and what color to choose and which room is more important–bedroom, kitchen or the bathroom, and such endless fatiguing questions. What is the status of sex in such a place? Sex has no emotional function either; Andreas pounds his pelvis into Anne Britt, who thinks of furniture. One night, when he tries to tell her his nightmare she stops him. Increasingly bored with her, Andreas finds another woman, Ingeborg, an office-mate with whom he falls in love. The movie approaches farce in his interactions with these two women: Anne Britt and Ingeborg. Andreas wants to establish a bond with one or the other, but neither of them are interested in establishing any such bonds. When he tells Anne Britt that he has fallen in love with Ingeborg, she asks him if he could postpone moving out until after Saturday’s dinner party with friends. Disappointed, Andreas asks Ingeborg if she really prefers him to her other boyfriends, and Ingeborg tells him that yes, he is really nice, and a new apartment with better rooms and a bathtub would be very good for her. Andreas understands that neither of the women have any emotions, and he tries to commit suicide again by jumping under the wheels of a train, but he cannot die since he is already dead. The film becomes complete farce in the scene Andreas comes back to his apartment with his face and body completely run over and bloodied by the train, and Anne Britt tells him to get ready for a go-cart party with friends.

Thus the ugly mechanical kissing couple whose noisy kissing makes Andreas commit suicide at the beginning of the movie foreshadows the world that awaits Andreas after his death: a colorless world of happy people with no emotions, who have everything they need and want, and whose lives revolve around awful, programmed, spiritless and routine activities such as redecorating, dinner parties, go-cart racing, and other banalities, including sex. Apparently, Scandinavians have the most scheduled sex lives in northern Europe, according to one study. Dystopias, as representational tropes, are always our own existing worlds with their flaws and awfulness magnified a million fold. Lien presents us with a dystopia where everything sleek and Ikea-like about Scandinavia gapes open to reveal the vacuous hole at the heart of everything, the sheer meaninglessness that spills out of the efficiency, the routine and all the rest of it. “The city” and the people in it look and act alive, but they are actually dead; Andreas joins them only after death.

When we study short story as a genre, we talk about a representational constraint called “Chekhov’s gun.” Basically, “Chekhov’s gun” states that there should be absolutely nothing in a story that does not need to be there. If there is a gun in the first chapter, then it should go off in the succeeding chapters. If it doesn’t, then that gun was not necessary in the first place. This movie follows the “Chekhov’s gun” principle of dramatic script writing most admirably. In a wonderful scene, about twenty minutes into the film, Andreas meets a man in a toilet–he does not see the man’s face, only his shoes–who tells him that nothing in “the city” has any taste. You can drink beer all night, but you cannot get drunk, the man tells Andreas. “Hot chocolate, pussy, burgers,” the man says, everything is tasteless; nothing has anything to it. We see Andreas following the man to his dwelling: we see a light go on in the basement of what looks like an abandoned tenement complex. Much later on in the movie, this character becomes the turning point in the exposition of the allegory in this movie. It is actually quite beautiful. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Andreas and this man discover the coordinates of “the city,” and the city punishes them for their discovery. Allegories are always binary in nature. There is what is; then, there is what is not. Per Schreiner’s screenplay is terrific; in some ways, it is relatively easy to get into an allegory. But you must also know how to get out of it. This movie does it really well.

The movie also has a beautiful and very aesthetically pleasing soundtrack, primarily with compositions by Edvard Grieg. In general, a wonderfully entertaining and thoughtful movie. A nice little black comedy, reminiscent of Jacques Tati or even Elia Suleiman; I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

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