Tuesday, 2 June 2009

let the right one in (d. tomas alfredson; w.john lindqvist)

Swedish vampire flick. Electric cinema. Not obvious doe-eyed territory but word of mouth does its bit, and consequently I find myself sitting in the most comfortable cinema seat I've ever been in at 11 o'clock on a Monday morning, feet up on the leather foot-rest (sic) waiting for the Smiths to kick in.

Context. Leather foot-rests because that's what you get if you go to the Electric and don't sit in the first three rows. Where you still get the comfortable chair. There was only five people in the cinema, so although I got the discount seat, I craftily re-located. The only thing is you wouldn't want to watch anything too demanding, because these are siesta-seats, ideal for snoozing. If the question were to arise, 'Can a cinema seat be too comfortable?', you would have to cite the Electric. A far cry from the last time I went there, twenty five years ago, to watch a Bergman double bill. Before I knew anything at all. The Smiths, because one of the few things I'd gleaned about the film was that the title is apparently a line from a Smiths song, though I'm not sure which, and was hoping to be enlightened.

I wasn't. The film is set sometime towards the end of the Brezhnev years. Not something I would have guessed had his name not been mentioned in a news report. The chunky Swedish Ikea fashions have come round again, so the Brezhnev namecheck came as something of a surprise, and also seemed to show that you can do a period piece set in recent decades without wigs or silly costumes or laboured historical references. Perhaps if I was Swedish I'd have been more clued in to the cultural nuances, but on another level what the film succeeds in doing is taking you away from your previous assumptions about Sweden in the 80s or, more importantly, what a vampire flick should be like. Replacing these assumptions with a beautifully shot world all of its own.

Hoyte Van Hoytem is the cinematographer, and the film is something of a personal triumph for him (or her?), with the director making the most of his (or her) talents. Much of the film, this being a vampire movie, is set after the sun has set, and the lighting is beautifully composed, capturing the stillness of a snowbound Swedish night. The editing is also measured, the shots allowed to linger for just long enough to resonate, to make the viewer look rather than merely see. Added to this, the performances of the two child stars are beguiling, their relationship completely believable. The film makes a virtue of its lack of showiness: we know that Eli can fly, but we never see her doing so; we know Oskar wants to stab someone, but he never does. Whilst there is blood-letting, this too is done with restraint, with the director sensitive to the fact that the sight of a 12 year old girl's mouth swathed in blood is probably more disconcerting than a vampire sucking blood from an unfortunate Swede's neck.

The word of mouth was right. Let The Right One In is an effective, tender film, made with a great deal of skill. Watching the film, and in spite of the slightly tortuous plotting in the final third, you always feel as though you're in the hands of film makers who know what they're up to, who don't try and overwhelm you with their genius, preferring to let their genius creep up on you and suck your blood when you're least expecting it. I'm not sure if Bergman would have been proud of it, but if every film I ever see at the Electric is Swedish and lives up to the tradition which has been set I'll be back there, in the cheap seats again.

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