English Title: Bad Faith
Directed by: Kristian Petri
Sweden, 105 min
Distributed by: Nordisk Film.
Think of the mystery of Italian genre thrillers, add the melancholy of Scandinavian Cinema to that and then spice it all off with the cinematography of award winning Hoyte van Hoytema, and you will have a movie so delicious that it will have the genre fans drooling from the mouth. Ond Tro is a god damned good movie. It looks like a genre fans wet dream, hardly surprising as Hoytema also shot the stunningly beautiful Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) 2008, the movie’s riddled with several referents to old Italian genre flicks, and the overall mysterious isolation is like something out of a Herzog movie.
Ond Tro is a very narrow movie, and it’s definitely not a movie for everyone, it’s a cryptic and delicate movie that has more than one obvious referent to genre cinema. And if you are ignorant of the referents within the movie, they it’s going to be lost on you. This unfortunately, what I see happened to this movie here in Sweden. Either you get it or you don’t, and this was painfully clear when the movie hit the screens here at the end of last year. Because when you read the movies narrative from the standpoint of a fan of genre, you will see stuff that probably was lost on a lot of the audience just wanting to see a thriller or a detective movie or what ever the hell they thought this movie would be. It when you wear the glasses of a genre fan that you see the greatness of this movie. No it’s not pretentious; it’s simply a splendid movie that pays homage to one of the finest genres of all time, the mind fucking and brain twisting Giallo.
Mona [Sonja Richter] has just moved from Denmark to a small town somewhere in Sweden. She’s got a new job, new colleagues, and a new apartment –in other words a new life. Going to a night out with colleagues Mona comes across the body of a dying man, the latest victim in a string of murders by the so-called Bayonet Killer. The encounter evokes something within Mona who becomes obsessed with the crimes and their perpetrator. Seeking solitude in a church, Mona meets Frank [Jonas Karlsson] and a reluctant attraction is started. Later she witnesses two men fighting in a car park, where one is left severely beaten, and the man still standing stares right at her shouting “don’t’ stare at me!” Mona becomes convinced that she’s seen the murderer, and her mania becomes almost an addiction. Her friendship with Frank blooms and eventually they become intimate. Frank also presents her with a theory that the killers face is left imprinted on the murder victims’ retinas when they die. Mona’s constant search and stalking of her suspected killer, peaks when she receives a phone call where the caller demands that she leave the him alone!
The somewhat underground cult author Magnus Dahlström penned the script to Ond Tro and the reason that this is interesting is because Dahlström who after a string of more or less minor successful novels vanished of the face of the earth. But now he’s back, and apart from the script to Ond Tro, he’s also got a new book out as of now. His writings could be compared to something of a Swedish William S. Burroughs, or even J.G. Ballard if you like, where texts and narratives are somewhat fragmented, but make sense the deeper you get into the worlds he’s describing. This style is something that find quite similar to the narrative of Ond Tro, the almost fragmented, dreamlike, ambivalent style in which the movie tells its tale.
Now it may sound farfetched to say that this movie is filled with referents to genre cinema, but it is. A few examples are the referral to the murderers identity being etched onto the retina of the victims – Dario Argento’s 4 mosche di velluto grigio (Four Flies on Grey Velvet) 1971, the amateur sleuth, the taunting killer – who even goes so far as to call Mona and demand that she leave him alone – although I don’t really see that this exposes him, but instead acts as a red herring. It’s also pretty apparent when you think of the “dream like state” of the characters in the movie… does stuff like Aldo Lado’s La corta notte delle bambole di vetro (Short night of Glass Dolls) 1971 sound familiar or Francesco Barilli’s Il profumo della signora in nero (The Perfume of a Lady in Black) 1974 to name to movies fast. Searching deeper, there’s childhood motifs too and I’ll return to how these affect the outcome of the movie later.
One can draw parallels to the tripper movies of say Herzog, Antonioni and Polanski, but that’s where pretension comes into play. I don’t think of the movie as something that’s aiming that high, because for me this movie is all about Giallo, Krimi and euro thrillers, not art house movies – even though it may be one, much like Amer 2010. Let me give you an example of how this works with one of the most Giallo defining traits – the amateur sleuth. Mona witnesses a murder, she crouches next to the victim and get’s blood on her hands, which she shortly thereafter wipes off on her dress. Meeting her colleagues at the pub later she is questioned about her dirty hands and bloody dress. Like so many Gialli, Mona is inhibited from going to the police, as this would directly put her in the position of prime suspect. After all there are no other witnesses to give her an alibi, hence Mona is forced to start her own investigation to find the answer to the killer’s identity and prove her innocence. It’s a definitive Giallo trait, and there's more than one red herring in this movie too, just like in the Gialli.
There’s a neat little twist to the final act that can be seen as a logical culmination to the theme of isolation, solitude and yearning that the movie has held throughout. At the same time it’s also questions characters morale - but looking at the arc of Mona, it’s still a reasonable finale, and I feel that the ending is fitting. Somewhere near the midpoint of the movie Mona tells Frank a story from her childhood about how her father killed a stray kitten that she had found. This is the origin of her isolation, her distance to her emotions and also the reason why she won’t let anyone in. She rejects her new boss when he openly hits on her on more than one occasion. She’s hesitant to Frank, but when he shares her fascination for the killer’s identity – which Mona is determined of already – their relationship grows. The final moments of the movie tests their faith towards each other and the outcome is the only way to go. All else would have gone against the traits and development that has progressed so far and her fascination for serial killers makes this the reasonable choice.
I'd also go as far as claiming that our old pal guilt has a part to play in the character arcs too. Guilt over causing death - even if it was her father who killed the kitten - is what keeps Mona from getting involved in any relationship. This is apparent in the reoccurring scenes where Mona looks at her hands, and tries to "wash the blood away" as in metaphorically washing away her sins. Guilt of being a killer is also in the mix to, as this is a key to understanding the final scene. Forgiveness means tabula rasa and a new world can be created. I could go on, but I don't want to bust anything for you here.
The link between director Kristian Petri and genre cinema isn’t that too far fetched either. He’s already slated to helm the next John Ajvide-Lindqvist project Hanteringen av Odöda (Handling the Undead) in whatever shape or form it may take. And when he made his documentary Brunnen (The Well) 2005 - he spent a fair amount of that documentary talking to Jess Franco. Obviously about Franco's work with Wells, but still it was Franco. The style of the movie can easily be explained if you look at Petri’s body of work. His documentaries are often very visual, and at times dreamy. Tokyo Noise 2002 and Brunnen are two completely different kind of documentaries, but still they have a rather laid back driving force, which at times can be undetermined as they can swerve off track at any point. His fiction movies Detaljer 2003, and Sommaren 1995 deal with rather heavy topics, and both have themes of loss and loneliness. Themes not to far away from those found in Ond Tro.
Where Tokyo Noise is an impressive experiment in audio and editing, Brunnen is almost a mystery thriller in its approach, and looking at Ond Tro it’s once again the visual impression of the movie, the artistic pacing and the very deliberate minimalistic editing that build up the impact of the movie. This is obviously has a lot to do with the way editor Johan Söderberg has put the movie together, and at times he really stays with a shot for ages evoking something of a Tarkovskyan feeling to the images.
Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is absolutely stunning. I’d be surprised if he hadn’t spent the weeks before the shoot watching a bag of old Gialli classics and then just adapted all that he saw onto his already trademark wide-angle photography so familiar from Let The Right One In. Then when he really gets’s in close for his close-ups they are so god damned beautiful that it’s almost like looking at an old oil painting covered in grit, grime and dirt.
Ond Tro is definitely a flick for patient fans of the good old Gialli, Hitchcockian thrillers and movies heavy on dreamlike narratives. It’s a wonderful piece of art, but also a great ride and undoubtedly one of the best Swedish genre pieces so far. It’s a movie that I know I’ll be going back to, so make sure to check it out.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Swedish dialogue with optional Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and English subtitles.
There’s fuck all on the extras, which is an outrage. You could easily fill a disc with commentaries by Petri, Dahlström, Hoytema and Söderberg that would have easily have been one of the most fascinating commentary track put to a Swedish movie.