The Bothersome Man (2006)

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I like to stick to areas where I feel I have some knowledge – sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, horror and kung-fu movies make up the majority of my review output for the ISCFC. But every now and again, a film sounds so intriguing that I want to watch it and let other people know about it, and such is the case with “The Bothersome Man”.

Andreas walks onto a train platform and sees a couple performing what looks like a grotesque parody of a kiss; after looking thoroughly defeated for a few moments, he steps in front of a train…waking up, bearded and on a bus, driving to a tiny building in the middle of nowhere (actually the Icelandic desert, one of the oddest-looking places on earth). He’s taken from there to a city, where he’s given a house, a job, and quickly gets himself a girlfriend, Anne (British-born Norwegian actress Petronella Barker, who’s amazing in this), who keeps him occupied with rote sex and empty materialism. No-one seems to question anything about their existence, until he meets a guy in a bar angrily complaining about how alcohol doesn’t work properly and nothing tastes how it should; following him back to his house, Andreas hears beautiful music, very faintly, coming from his basement flat.

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The entire city feels like some very elaborate bit of clockwork. Andreas never allows himself to get fully sucked into whatever world he now inhabits – he thinks he’s found a kindred spirit in Ingeborg, although that doesn’t develop as expected; but it’s only when he meets Hugo, the guy from the bar, and discovers the music is coming from a crack in his basement (that leads to who knows where?) that inspires him to try and break out of wherever he is.

I don’t want to reveal any more, as you all ought to be watching this movie. There’s a ton of stuff to chew over with “The Bothersome Man”, so much so that it’s the day after and I’m still trying to puzzle out just what the movie was about. It’s good, normal and natural to rebel against such a tedious system that forces any creativity we have into deciding on meaningless trivia, not art or music or writing. But he knows it’s false! Still, it’s a quietly hilarious dark comedy – the breakup scene with Anne is just fantastic, for example.

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It’s a beautiful movie too, with carefully composed scenes and unusual backdrops, plus a few callbacks to classic movies (there’s a few visuals from “Paris, Texas” in there, for one). The guy playing Andreas, Trond Fausa Aurvåg, has a splendid hangdog expression too; it’s a shame there seem to be few films like this being made in the UK or the USA. Our quiet black comedies would crowbar in a reference to Beyonce or sport or some other pop culture ephemera. All you have with this movie is the crushing force of capitalist uniformity, where our only choice is what colour we’d like the tiles in our kitchen.

There’s been a lot of debate about what exactly this film is about, and where it’s set. Criticisms have said it veers too close to “fantasyland”, and I think that’s a misreading. It’s not about a particularly boring afterlife either, I think, but it’s a metaphor for our lives now. The system has such control over us that not only do most of us not want real freedom, but we get angry at people who do, and even help block up the paths towards it. But people who strive, and reach far enough to bring something back, inspire others and affect lives for the better. Cracks will always appear because it’s such a fundamentally broken system.

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That’s just my theory, anyway. I’ve just read a clever and thoughtful review of this on a Christian blog which makes a persuasive case for it being about purgatory. Please watch it yourself and think about what it means. It’s a really fantastic film.

Rating: thumbs up

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