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Underdog - Film Review (Scandinavian Film Festival)

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by Leona (Devaz) Fensome (subscribe)
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Scandinavian Film Festival Movie Review: Underdog
Scandinavian Film Festival
Scandinavian Film Festival


There is an aching and resplendent beauty that comes with certain foreign genre films. Devoid of large-scale commercial action scenes typically brimming with car crashes, rapid-fire machine guns and muscles-bulging-out-of-tight-shirts, genuine human fragility and bravery is often depicted by the stripped back and raw emotive power of purely complex characters. As an audience member, it can be unnerving to be left with minimalistic cinematography – when your senses are normally accustomed to being saturated with noise – but, it is indeed, refreshingly and surprisingly cathartic.

Underdog or Svenskjävel (which according to The Guardian translates as "Swedish bastard") is part of the Scandinavian Film Festival, which toured most capital cities in Australia and concluded in Hobart this week. Held at independent Perth outlet, Cinema Paradiso recently, the charming theatre was packed with Scandinavian's, Australians and many other cultures all snuggly tucked into the worn fabric seats. This is the power of great cinema – it is an elixir, a window into worlds where you not only discover the push and pull of life, but your own stance on societal issues.

Underdog, Svenskjavel
Underdog, Svenskjavel

Culture plays a pivotal role in this film. Immigration is a widely debated and increasingly topical conversation both globally and locally. Australia's plight with refugees and asylum seekers has created a divisive discourse and constantly shines on a mirror on how we, as human beings see entitlement when it comes to living and working on terra nullius or foreign soil. The protagonist of the film 'Dino' (played by Swedish comedian\actress Bianca Krönlof) is herself a migrant, moving from native Sweden, to Oslo in Norway in search of work and interestingly a better life. Herein lies the first juxtaposition. We are exposed as a society to this concept of a migrant, refugee or asylum seeker being an 'other'. Typically, of Asian, African or European descent and in most circumstances moving to a progressive, westernised country. But, what of a Caucasian migrant moving to a neighbouring Caucasian country? Wouldn't they be welcomed with open arms, a cheerful grin, pat on the back and a, 'hey, another one of us?' No, quite frankly not.



The film swims magnificently between Dino and Steffen (played by Norwegian actor Henrik Rafaelsen), a Swedish man who interestingly owns a Japanese restaurant and is a former tennis professional – second juxtaposition. She finds herself in his servitude of sorts, hired as an informal nanny for his young daughter. Estranged from his wife who is working on a placement overseas, the two inexplicably bond and begin a heady, but no-frills romance.

It is this political and emotional interplay that captured Swedish director, Ronnie Sandahl's mind. A novelist and journalist, this is his feature debut and largely stems from his own personal experience. In 2009, a financial crisis hit Sweden and many students were forced to emigrate to the Norwegian capital, Oslo. It was during this time Sandahl shared, it is 'the Swedes who have become the Norwegians' servants'. Dino lives with other Swedes in shared, cramped quarters – enough so, you'll find yourself jostling in your seat as if trapped in a compact elevator. The tight film-shots give you a sense of the intimacy, and really, lack of privacy this situation provides.

There's one spectacular and hilariously confronting scene comprised of a sanguine Dino, sitting in a window frame, overlooking an irate housemate who is gesticulating wildly to two other roomies about who ate his tomato sauce. Anyone who has lived in a shared house can attest to problematic kitchen encounters. It results in a manic resplendence of the entire fridge contents being dumped on the floor in a vengeful triumph. Here is the push-pull of life – ownership, wanting to belong, frustration – elements that can break the human spirit and cause these explosive and charged moments. It's Dino's response, which enraptures me the most. Comical indifference.

It is this indifference, which is tested through Steffen's eldest daughter, who plays a seemingly innocuous role in this movie. There are undercurrents of something more desiring to happen between her and Dino. But it is here that I will leave you. Underdog is strong and emotionally charged in the purest of ways. It won awards at both Chicago and Zurich's Film festivals, and it is easy to see why, "we grew up learning to cheer on the underdog because we see ourselves in them." ― Shane Koyczan.
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*Leona (Devaz) Fensome was invited as a guest
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