Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Original title: Ondskan
Sweden/Denmark, 2003. Moviola Film och Television AB, Nordisk Film/TV, Svenska Filminstitutet. Screenplay by Hans Gunnarsson, Mikael Hafstrom, based on the novel by Jan Guillou. Cinematography by Peter Mokrosinski. Produced by Ingemar Leijonborg, Hans Lonnerheden. Music by Francis Shaw. Production Design by Anna Asp. Costume Design by Camilla Carlstrom, Lotta Garcia. Film Editing by Darek Hodor. Academy Awards 2003. Toronto International Film Festival 2003.
Young Torless meets Full Metal Jacket in this riveting look at the world of elite boarding schools set in the 1960s. After getting into too many fights and being expelled too many times from local schools, Erik is sent to a prestigious school after his sympathetic mother sells a number of heirlooms to pay his tuition. Getting away from his stepfather, whose regular penchant for violent corporal punishment is partly what has made our hero so combative, is a good idea, and Erik shows up at his new institution intending to tow the line and make his way through the educational ranks until his eventual goal of law school. Said goal seems impossible, however, when he arrives and finds himself immersed in a hierarchical system among students who keep class privilege alive and well and enforce its rules with unrelenting brutality. When Erik joins the swim team and outdoes his aristocratic fellow students, whose parents financially support prizes mainly to see their children win them, his position at the school only becomes that more precarious for him. A rich, fascinating film whose tension never abates, it is further enhanced with humor and warmth and a monumentally sympathetic leading hero whose plight becomes your sole concern for two hours, and whose friendship with his roommate is wholly endearing. Rather than making excuses for bad behaviour or turning him into a maligned saint, director Mikael Hafstrom does an expert job of portraying a character who is doing his best to survive a game where the rules are always bending and rarely in his favor, while also investigating the nature of violence and the social factors that contribute to misfit behaviour. The changing atmosphere of Sweden’s political climate, going from gentry snobbery to the oncoming popularity of democratic socialism, is represented beautifully in the microcosm of the school’s relentlessly rigid atmosphere.