TIFF Romania Review: Call Girl (2012) – Essential Viewing

By Jacqueline Valencia

Call-Girl_2012_1


Cast: , ,
Director: Mikael Marcimain
Country: Sweden
Genre: Drama | Thriller


Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for the 12th Annual Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information on Call Girl visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @TIFFromania.

The film follows three parallel stories. John Sandberg (Simon J. Berger) is a vice squad detective on the brink of uncovering a network of corrupt politicians. Dagmar Glans’s (Pernilla August, she played Anakin’s mom in Star Wars franchise) is a motherly madam expertly networking her bank of girls with the politicians that employ their services.  Then there are the lives of fourteen year old Iris (Sofia Karemyr) and her cousin Sonja (Josefin Asplund) new inhabitants of a juvenile home who, through their numerous trips to the city, find themselves caught in Dagmar’s dark web. The story is set on the eve of the 1976 Swedish elections, a time when the country saw itself at the dawn of a sexual revolution and women’s liberation.

It is a quiet film, with brief dialogue, while the violence is abrupt. The film’s tempered tone gives it a realistic documentary texture. 

The combined narratives revolve around troubled Iris. Scenes with her first client encounters are intermixed with political rhetoric on freedom for women, while in the background a bill is being drafted decriminalizing incest and the exploitation of underage girls. Iris and Sonja nervously giggle, their eyes wide, unaware of the world of cruel intentions and tragic consequence. Their reactions to the grit around them seem flat and dry, but it’s a telling symptom of young lives without power, but still infused with a subconscious agency. They live freely in the youth hostel smoking in the yard and escaping their rooms at night with little to no punishment.  Their guardians may act concerned, but only truly involve themselves when it is too late. It ends up as no surprise then when they follow maternal Dagmar Glans’s direction to the letter even when she becomes abusive and cruel. Dagmar counsels Iris, “Chicks like you have the world at your feet,” all the while plying her with drugs and alcohol, bending her fate to her will.

Call-Girl_2013_2Pernilla August shines as Dagmar, caring like a dove one second and attacking like a vulture the next. This an excellent vehicle for August and it looks like she delights in it too. Karemyr and Asplund hold their own as well in subtlety layered performances. Berger’s detective becomes so background though that it was hard to follow his narrative given that his investigation is the engine that frames the story overall. However, he is the only one that can blow the whole operation open and in turn, is the only one that could help the girls. As a crusader, Berger plays the balance of clean and complex very well.

Marcimain’s constantly moving camera might feel familiar to a few. He was the second unit director in the remake of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Call Girl has a similar nostalgic yellow tint to its lens. It is a quiet film, with brief dialogue, while the violence is abrupt. The film’s tempered tone gives it a realistic documentary texture. Elegantly supported by a vibrant synthesizer score by Mattias Bärjed, the stark blueprint theatrics work for a film whose force lies in the veracity of its terrorizing detachment.

To the ubiquitous title and set design, the film’s atmospherics were indicative of old cop stakeouts and bell-bottomed thrillers. The sights of reel-to-reel recorders, phallic phones, feathered hair and naturally manicured bodies were evocative of the seventies, but they were accenting rather than distracting.

The excellent period detailing needs to be noted. To the ubiquitous title and set design, the film’s atmospherics were indicative of old cop stakeouts and bell-bottomed thrillers. The sights of reel-to-reel recorders, phallic phones, feathered hair and naturally manicured bodies were evocative of the seventies, but they were accenting rather than distracting.

Call Girl is loosely based on a real life Swedish political skirmish that almost dismantled the government in a prime time in its history. What Marcimain has created with this film is more of a statement about modern day gendered sovereignty. The movie starts off with female secretaries transcribing bugged conversations while their male detective counterparts find clues in their work. Dagmar is an empowered sexually charged woman, but only in the hands of those who can harness her power for their own sexual gain. As her castle crumbles, her only salvation is through her silence and her loyalty to her clients. The film is an organic and structurally feminist thought piece more than the real life political controversy that it paints itself with. Thus, it stands as a brilliantly executed essay on the eternal ruminations of privilege, sex and gender politics.

I rank Call Girl as one the best films I’ve seen in the past two years.  I am reminded of a book by Tamara Faith Berger called Maidenhead. In fact, passages from it popped up in my head as I watched Call Girl. The first chapter of the book is called Teenagers and in it the protagonist posits an idea to her reader: In this world there are slaves and those slaves give birth to slaves. As I watched Iris run across the screen my thoughts flew with her: the world needs to examine how we treat and portray women, especially the young ones who are more than just their bodies, no matter what society tells them. Call Girl thematically suggests that we need to stop dismissing this conversation and deal with it in order to progress beyond it.

95/100 ~ AMAZING. The world needs to examine how we treat and portray women, especially the young ones who are more than just their bodies, no matter what society tells them. Call Girl thematically suggests that we need to stop dismissing this conversation and deal with it in order to progress beyond it.
I'm a published writer, illustrator, and film critic. Cinema has been a passion of mine since my first viewing of Milius' Conan the Barbarian and my film tastes go from experimental to modern blockbuster.