May 26, 2006
By Leslie Felperin
For office drone Andreas, suicide is preferable to a world where everything is spotlessly clean, everyone's nice, and every home looks like an Ikea showroom. "The Bothersome Man," the delightfully droll sophomore feature by Norwegian helmer Jens Lien ("Jonny Vang") creates a surreal dystopia that's only a taupe-colored shade from a realist depiction of contempo Scandinavia. Although marbled with bleak desperation, and sometimes gory in a harmless, slapstick way, this bone-dry black comedy could bother up bookings from niche distributors offshore and play well to offbeat-loving auds.
Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvag -- think Vincent Cassel but with a weaker chin and higher forehead) is dropped off by a bus in the middle of a gray-toned desert (filmed, per credits, in Iceland's Sprengisandur National Desert Reserve) and then driven into a tidy, unnamed city (actually Oslo) equally lacking in color.
He's assigned a cozy apartment, and told to report to a tower block where smiling boss Havard (Johannes Joner) hands him an untaxing accountant job.
Before long, he's effortlessly making friends with his colleagues and meets lacquered-haired interior designer Anne-Britt (Petronella Barker). The two shack up together and pursue a contented routine built around home improvement, more dinner parties and mechanical sex.
Trouble is, Andreas can't get used to this childfree world where all the food is literally tasteless, booze never gets you drunk, and no one is ever angry, sad or even ecstatically happy. More bizarre still, when he accidentally cuts off his finger it mysteriously grows back. Even an attempt to commit suicide by throwing himself under a subway train fails to finish him off, and he stumbles back to life like a human Wile E. Coyote in a blood-soaked suit.
Lead Fausa Aurvag deserves kudos for just-so balance between underplayed expression and exaggerated physicality.
Dialogue never spells out the nature of the world depicted, although the send-up of polite Scandie culture is obvious. Religiously inclined auds might see a vision here of either hell or heaven; others, just an absurdist Beckettian universe with more throw cushions.
Either way, the script by Per Schreiner and Lien's lean helming satisfyingly interlace recurring characters, incidents and strands of dialogue to form a fugue-like structure that falters just fractionally in the last reels. Final pay-off is enigmatically evocative.
Given the script was based on Schreiner's own radio play, it's unsurprising that sound design by Christian Schaanning plays such a key role in producing the pic's comic-creepy effect. Use of sound and impossible space recalls the eerie worlds of David Lynch, while the visuals' cold palette of neutrals and figure-dwarfing landscapes evoke work of Swedish helmer Roy Andersson ("Songs From the Second Floor"). Shades of Jacques Tati's menacingly modernist houses are also detectable, and just a whiff of Tati's whimsy.
--Leslie Felperin/ Variety - Review
March 16, 2007
Is it hell or is it just too comfortable?
By Michael Wilmington
Perhaps "The Bothersome Man" -- a nerve-janglingly odd film directed by Norwegian newcomer Jens Lien -- is set in hell. Perhaps it is set in a heaven gone terribly wrong, a would-be paradise of sterile modernist decor where everything is provided for, people live empty, predictable lives and where at least one man, Andreas, is cracking up. Or perhaps the film is simply Lien and scriptwriter Per Schreiner's satiric view of modern urban Norway, with despair pulsing away below the frozen calm surface.
Actually it's all of the above -- a simple but cryptic story done so sparely, precisely and often wordlessly, that it flows by like a bad dream.
We first see the central character, harried-looking Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvag), watching two lovers engaged in loveless-looking public necking in a subway station. A scene that will be repeated later. Suddenly Andreas jumps before the oncoming train and, just as suddenly and strangely, he is being dropped off, alive and unhurt, by a bus at a lonely looking cafe in the desert. A chatty driver takes him to the city (Oslo, unidentified) and to his new job: accountant in a prosperous-looking firm of vague purpose. There, his boss, Havard (Johannes Joner), greets Andreas with cool friendliness, and his co-workers behave with opaque amiability.
Soon Andreas is in an arranged-marriage-style relationship with a mild-mannered, single-minded interior designer, Anne-Britt (Petronella Barker), and an illicit love affair with Ingeborg (Birgitte Larsen), his bizarrely compliant mistress from the office. But for all his comfortable routine, and undemanding life, Andreas remains disturbed by the absence of children, by the tastelessness of the food, the joylessness of the sex, and the strange dead lassitude of everyone and everything around him. He begins to explore dangerous territory, beginning with a mysterious crack in acquaintance Hugo's (Per Schaaning) cellar room.
"The Bothersome Man," a multiple award winner at international film festivals, is full of cool nightmare imagery, by a moviemaker with a lot of talent. If you're familiar with movie science-fiction dystopias (or anti-utopias), all the way from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" to Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville" to George Lucas' "THX 1138" and Andrew Niccol's "Gattaca," much of it will strike overfamiliar chords. But this movie is made with formidable assurance, a compelling look, quiet skill and impressive economy. Hell, heaven or dark mirror of urban yuppie life today, Lien's "Bothersome" vision makes you feel Andreas' cold sweat and quiet desperation -- which may be our own as well.
--Michael Wilmington/ Chicago Tribune - Review