Held hostage in the battle of the sexes
For the Herald
Indie jewel Stockholm brings Madrid-made captive bonding drama to ArgentinaPINAMAR — Harvested for Pantalla Pinamar from the official competition of the Malaga Film Festival’s last edition, Stockholm by Rodrigo Sorogoyen is one of those small films that soar high and win big. Sorogoyen’s feature is as independent as they come and was made on the sort of small budget that mainstream film producers don’t even attempt to understand: after trying to get public financing, the director turned to Internet crowdsourcing — which got him 13,000 euro (US$18,000) and family and friends — 65,000 euro (US$90,000), then shot the film in just 12 days with the greater part of the cast and crew working for free. Sorogoyen’s picture swept the top awards in Malaga, scoring Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Special Mention from the Critics Jury, Special Prize from the Young Jury and the Signis Prize for Best Picture.
Screened yesterday at Pantalla Pinamar to a packed theatre which reacted with gushing enthusiasm as soon as the ending credits stopped rolling, Stockholm is a risky undertaking with an original approach of how the gender divide can turn relationships into captivities of sorts — ergo the film’s title, hinting at the famous capture-bonding syndrome. At a formal level, it’s an apparently simple film, with two actors and the stifling backdrop of a gloomy winter day. But appearances can be as shallow as the cloudy skies over Madrid.
Javier Pereira (winner of last year’s Goya Breakthrough Performance and one of the guests of this years’ edition of Pantalla Pinamar) is a cheeky single-minded young man on the prowl who sets his sights on Aura Garrido, a beautiful and rather awkward girl, after he catches a glimpse of her at a party. Since the girl doesn’t seem convinced by the boy’s “I just fell in love” approach, he starts pursuing her with almost comical resolve, shadowing her through the streets of Madrid as she leaves the party and luring her into talking to him. He’s willing to go to any lengths to have her and while at first she seems annoyed by his persistence, her defences crumble slowly as the night unfolds.
The boy-wants-girl, girl-rejects-boy, boy-steps-up-his-moves approach leads to the easily predictable mating dance. However, their cliché-ridden dialogue doesn’t turn into an exciting exchange. Au contraire. While some may find a certain resemblance to Richard Linklater’s honest and direct approach of a budding relationship in the already iconic Before Sunrise (1995), Sorogoyen’s characters may be as contemporary and natural as they come, but their communication flows awkwardly, heavily and — after 50 minutes of more of the same — irritatingly. Perhaps deliberately, the director stretches the male-female bonding up to the point where irritation forces the viewers to become involved in the characters’ mating ritual, to bite their nails while wondering how much longer he’s going to pursue her (and why doesn’t he just give up) and why doesn’t she just decide to put him out of his misery one way or the other.
Again, predictably — because consummation requires a great deal of effort — you’ll feel you’ve been put to work along with the mated pair.
One the other hand, as tough as the survival of those 50 minutes may seem, it’s worthwhile: when the morning comes, nothing is the same, except, perhaps, the gloomy skies of Madrid. The light changes, bathing the boy’s apartment in bright whites, and the film turns on its head as the prey becomes predator. Aura Garrido’s transformation from the romantically inclined, self-conscious girl into a determined no-holds-barred young woman makes for a startling and highly satisfactory performance, just as Pereira’s character plummets from the night-time smooth-talking seducer to a daylight screaming Lothario who loses his wits and his manly balance when faced with a woman who holds him captive in his own apartment.
Stockholm is an intriguing little jewel that makes you work for it, makes you spend the night and endure the raw morning light of Madrid’s gloomy skies looking for a reflection. It entraps you just as does its characters, good little soldiers in the relentless battle of the sexes, entrap themselves. As the fall prey to the other’s game, as they revel in their knotty bond, so will you become consecutively irritated and seduced, willing yourself to break away while plunging deeper into the snare. In the end, you’ll be just as captive to your own desires reflected in the film as the characters are held hostage by their own separate projections of life, self and relationships.