Brought to Cannes for a screening aiming at industry professionals and members of the press earlier this year, „Marianne“ will finally have its official world premiere on August 2nd at the acclaimed FanTasia film festival in Montreal. It might be a massive relief for Swedish filmmaker Filip Tegstedt after years of fighting to get this project off the ground. Without any support of the SFI or regular production partners in his homecountry, Tegstedt financed his debut feature all by himself and the result does not look as if it had to suffer from any budgetary or artistic compromises. This is a film driven by the passion of the people behind it and you can see it frame per frame. And in case you lost your faith in the genre after the last torture porn or PG horror, here is a reason to believe again.
Horror has a tradition of toying with the reality of its own raison d’être. The To Be Or Not To Be finds itself judged by one simple question: Does the monster exist or is it just a chimera dwelling inside some character’s disturbed mind? Sometimes the audience has to wait for the last page or final shot to find out (and realize that Jack Torrance has always been a part of the Overlook Hotel), and sometimes they get their evidence early enough to either witness a protagonist’s worst fears coming true (like finding out that their beloved son Damien is actually the Antichrist) or feel major disappointment while the rest of the story turns into a straightforward insult to every genre fan (remember wanting to beat up M. Night Shyamalan for the infamous twist in „The Village“?). But as much as we die to know the nature of the game, the most effective cases remain the ones that refuse to offer a waterproof solution. Because the doubt will haunt us even after the end credits are done and the screen has turned black. There is no easy way of returning to business as usual and just shaking the whole thing off. We may revisit the goddamn thing to check it out again, hoping to find the answer hidden somewhere between the lines or images. And we may even succeed and calm ourselves that way – but then again, what does Rosemary really find in the cradle?
„Marianne“, the feature debut of Swedish filmmaker Filip Tegstedt, joins the tradition of unsettling the audience as much as possible. But this is not your regular ghost train ride. From a dramaturgical point of view, the approach of this well written and superbly acted film intentionally avoids fulfilling your expectations as a horror connoisseur for quite a while if not at all. However, for those who get across this film without knowing anything, the choice of narration is literally fatal. What they will experience in the first place is a dark and painful psychological family drama, dealing with guilt and loss all over. Very uncompromising, very Swedish. But before the audience can even realize, a very creepy and disturbing kind of scaryness is closing in on them, pretty much willing to not let go again any time soon. So in case you want to provide a regular Strindberg reader with a couple of sleepless nights, here is your chance to do so. And if it is not right up your alley to miss one if the most unusual genre entries in recent years, „Marianne“ is the one to get your hands on.
Take alone the main character. Krister (played by well-known Swedish actor Thomas Hedengran) has nothing that makes him likeable. Blessed with a loving wife (so beautiful: Tintin Anderzon) and an angelic looking little daughter, this man is and always has been a confirmed cheater. When a car accident turns him into a widower he does not show any visible sign of mourning and even leaves the church in the midst of the requiem mess in order to visit somebody else’s grave. And so we have no reason to doubt that his now adolescent daughter, a Goth who obviously cut herself various times (a difficult and complex performance by newcomer Sandra Larsson), feels nothing but disdain and maybe hatred for the man who kept coming back to her mother, only to cause more pain every time he did. And so she, Sandra, is the one we might care for, but instead it is Krister who takes most of the screen time – another reason for us to not like him.
But there is more about this character and we have to observe him carefully. The narration switches back and forth between time and space, and sometimes a sequence does not end up in the same period, even though we might think so at first. This is montage used in the most essential and effective ways because it provokes connotations we would otherwise not have and unveils unexpected layers of Krister that deepen the character to a degree that shifts the first impression decisively. When we watch him chasing Sandra in a (possible) flashback down the hallway for instance (in painful slow motion, only accompanied by the hypnotic music of Mikael Junehag), it is not her who he finally catches up but his dead wife in a another flashback and at a different time.
We are about ten minutes in the movie when the first signs of a haunting appear almost unnoticed but get wiped away too quickly to gain reasonable attention. Krister is obviously having a good deal of bad dreams, but what they deal with we are not told, at least not for quite a while. Next time the haunting returns, it does so by means of a disturbing choice of montage, overlapped by an echo from the past and preceded by a frame that will later reappear to picture the most shocking image of the whole film. His friend Sven (Peter Stormare, who thankfully helps small indie productions like this one with his appearance) is telling Krister about the phenomenon of sleep paralysis and suspects him to suffer from it. Later we hear about a folk myth called The Mare, a succubus-like ghost stealing life from people while they are asleep. But what are we meant to believe? And if the latter is true, should we start to worry about Krister? Anyway, no matter how you decide, the actual outcome might be worse. But until then, horror is creeping in as slowly as can be, and the narration does everything to tie things up in a way that makes it impossible to withdraw oneself from the subliminally rising discomfort that is the core of the story.
One reason for this should be the overall presence of death in one way or another and the many variations of how the dead intrude the lives of the living. The night after the funeral Sandra stays with her boyfriend Stiff (Dylan M. Johansson) who claims to see elfs and tries to convince her that her mother cannot be talked to by means of an Ouija board but will be there when she needs her (whatever that means). Apart from that though, he says, the dead are not meant to meddle. But the camera tells a different story and shows us Murnau’s „Nosferatu“ on the tv screen with Max Schreck directly looking at us before walking away. And no, this is neither a vampire nor a zombie movie. Being undead has a decisively different meaning here.
But as much as „Marianne“ is about fear and death it is also about a troubled father/daughter relationship und therefore Sandra becomes the heart of the movie. Her role was bigger in the original concept, the filmmaker told us, but then got diminished for the sake of Krister and his hauntings. In the finished version though, Sandra’s character leaves an impact deep enough to make her the center of attention. And with the course that the story takes, it is exactly this what makes the finale so very shocking and painful.
But within all this darkness there is humor too, and enough of it to make all the depressing, poignant and disturbing elements of the story bearable. And that is urgently needed. Because these characters are real people. Because you will feel them and you will feel for them. And because „Marianne“ is about the living rather than the dead, and no matter whether the hauntings are real or not, their origin is deeply rooted in human nature and the failures that can define a life. Let’s hope this exceptional film will find the audience it deserves. [LZ]
OT: Marianne (SE 2011). DIRECTOR: Filip Tegstedt. WRITER: Filip Tegstedt. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Johan Malmsten. MUSIC: Mikael Junehag. CAST: Thomas Hedengran, Sandra Larsson, Peter Stormare, Tintin Anderzon, Dylan M. Johansson, Helena Löwenmark, Viktoria Sätter. RUNTIME: 100 min.
Recommended LINKS for further reading:
- Filip Tegstedt talks MARIANNE
- MARIANNE @Facebook
- MARIANNE @FanTasia
- MARIANNE @YouTube
- MARIANNE @Twitter
- MARIANNE @Vimeo
[Images: Jämtfilm, AMT Production]