Saturday 19 January 2019

Videoman (aka Videomannen) (2018 Sweden: Dir Kristian A. Söderström)

While the fetishising of the 1980s continues apace in the movies, Kristian A. Söderström's affectionate drama/thriller offers a rather different take on the deification of that decade.

Ennio (Stefan Sauk) is a man after his time. Once the owner of 'one of Sweden's most talked about video shops' back in the day, he's now reduced to setting up his immense VHS collection in a rather squalid Gothenburg basement apartment. Rows and rows of cassettes take precedent over everyday things like a bedroom, and Ennio, whose diet seems to consist entirely of bottles of whisky, faces an uncertain financial future. He also has an ex-wife tired of his obsession. "To be an expert on's like learning the phone book by heart," she reasons at one point. But Ennio is resolutely single and independent, observing of a friend who has given up the VHS obsession for married life, "that's not compromise, that's fascism."

Elsewhere in the city we meet another 80s victim, also with a pronounced drink problem and an unhealthy attachment to the decade that taste created. Simone (Lena Nilsson) is a lonely office worker, estranged from her daughter, a woman who still crimps her hair and thinks that no good music was made after 1989. She has 200 followers on Instagram but "no-one likes' my photos" and she's lost in a haze of red wine,  cigarette smoke and regret.

It's perhaps inevitable that Simone and Ennio will meet, which they do at the point where Ennio is about to sell a rare copy of Lucio Fulci's Zombie to a UK collector called 'Faceless' for €10,000. It's a price that will alleviate his financial problems, but it's stolen from him with only a few days before the collector is due to call. Ennio does the rounds of his fellow enthusiasts in a search for the missing tape, at the same time that Simone is enduring some horrid office politics and trying to hold down her job despite her increased levels of drinking.

Much of Videoman is devoted to the September - September on-off relationship between Ennio and Simone, and I liked how the meet cute cliches are subverted (he's impressed when she disses the 1999 version of The Mummy because of it numerous factual errors). Both are hiding from life and have their own reasons for wanting to take refuge in a decade long gone.

Sauk and Nilsson give great, nuanced performances that elevate Videoman from an ok movie to a really good one, and it's to the director's credit, in a first feature too, that he gives time to the development of their characters - he also pulls off the ability to make the audience understand the nature of obsession, rather than a mere character tic or something to be laughed at (you feel Ennio's pain when at one point he peruses another collector's VHS library and bemoans the fact that they're sorted by director). The on point soundtrack by Swedish synthwave composer 'Waveshaper' may at times convince us that we're watching a thriller movie, but for the most part this is a very accomplished film about loss, regret and the importance of remaining individual.

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