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Per Christian Ellefsen,
Marit Pia Jacobsen
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I never did get around to seeing Dagur Kári's first film, Nói albínói, but now that I've seen his second, I'll make it a priority. Dark Horse (as it was called at AFI Fest in Los Angeles) is a very funny, stylish, and genuinely touching comedy in the vein of Jim Jarmusch's early films, albeit livelier and less adamantly cerebral.
Daniel (Jakob Cedergren) is a graffiti artist who probably embodies the term loser more fully than anyone you have ever met. He's broke, lazy, irresponsible and dorky. This is a comedy, though, and appropriately, Daniel is a lovable loser. Morfar (Nicolas Bro) is Daniel's only apparent friend, an overweight dude who works in a sleep clinic and maintains aspirations of becoming a soccer referee.
The story gets underway when these two guys visit a bakery and the beautiful woman behind the counter (Tilly Scott Pederson) spontaneously declares her love for Morfar, who is so taken aback by her expression that he runs away. Immediately after, Daniel discovers that this chick is tripping on psychedelic mushrooms, casting some doubt on her romantic declaration, and he aids her in getting home. So begins a loser's love triangle which by the end of the film has very gracefully become about something else: the possibility of elusive, fundamental personal change, both for the better and for the worse.
Every member of this cast, down to the most peripheral supporting role, is terrific. The two leading men, in particular, are understated and yet deeply human. Kári's sense of the visual and the aural (he clearly cares a lot about sound) is very hip but always elegant. He shoots quirky angles in high contrast back-and-white, but every shot is about something; even his flourishes have purpose.
Most importantly, the script by Kári and his co-writer, Rune Schjøtt, gracefully treads that very risky territory between the offbeat and the naturalistic. His characters move through their lives whimsically and even the narrative structure seems vaguely improvised, yet there is a graceful evolution to the unfolding of events that, by the end, gives the classic sense of inevitability that we associate with the best film writing.
(It speaks volumes, I think, that the English subtitles were sometimes impossible to read because of the stark white areas in the frame, and yet I never felt that I missed a beat).
I don't see a U.S. release date indicated on the IMDb, but I can't imagine that Dark Horse (or whatever they're going to call it) won't ultimately find a distributor. This is that rare breed of crowd-pleasing art flick that any half-astute specialty studio should be fighting over.
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