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Film review: Call Girl

Andrew Sun

 

Call Girl
Starring: Sofia Karemyr, Simon J. Berger
Director: Mikael Marcimain
Category: III (Swedish and English)

Rating: 3.5/5

 

Based on real life events, Call Girl caused a scandal in Sweden by insinuating that top government officials in the 1970s procured and then tried to cover up their involvement with prostitutes, some who were under age.

It's a story most Swedish adults will have some familiarity with, even though names have been changed. The background would likely add to a deeper appreciation of the film as a biting critique of the country's social and political mores.

The rest of world will have to settle for a taut and well acted ensemble thriller about cabals of dirty old men who exploit their positions and the alienated teenagers lured into a life of sin and sleaze.

The story is multilayered but it isn't particularly revelatory. Teenage girls conned into being high-priced escorts isn't new. Fortunately, Call Girl never falls into the sensationalist trap of making the illicit sex sexy. The direction is efficient and at times astonishingly brisk and invigorating. Characters and suspense are built with short, pertinent vignettes, not noisy, empty, flashy visuals.

Making his cinematic debut, Mikael Marcimain is undoubtedly a talent worth watching. A filmmaker who previously worked for television, he was also second unit director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Imagine the same intrigue but with hookers. Marcimain knows how to get to the point in short bursts, easing the earnestness and overly obtuse narrative with unrelenting pace and editing.

This is a director who can't wait for someone to walk down the length of a hall. But the movie still clocks in at close to 140 minutes, which hints at how much story there is to tell.

Seamlessly and relentlessly switching between characters, it can be difficult at the start to decide which to focus your attention. There's Iris (Sofia Karemyr), a 14-year-old delinquent whose passive mother keeps discarding her into different juvenile shelters. After sneaking out to wander Stockholm at night, her youth and ripeness attracts business-minded madam Dagmar (Pernilla August), who herself is a weak-willed mother.

Soon, the girl is coked-up and pimped out to middle-aged men, some of whom we later learn hold prominent positions but look a lot less important in their saggy underwear.

The lone cop not afraid to expose the whole sordidness with links to judges, cabinet ministers and a presidential election is John (Simon J. Berger). He's a little too strait-laced and inscrutable to be believable now, but was perhaps right for the time. Refusing to ignore orders to drop the issue, John goes solo even as he is personally threatened and his investigations are hindered at every step.

Ultimately, the film might have made a bigger impact if it didn't try to do as much as it does. Also, in this post-Monica Lewinsky and WikiLeaks age, the sex and surveillance in Call Girl appear almost like quaint and nostalgic relics. Still, the biggest star of the film is the period accoutrements.

48hours@scmp.com

 

Call Girl opens on October 31

 

 

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