After all, it's just a ride….

Call Girl (2012)

call-girl-posterThe sleaze of the 1970’s knows no borders, as perusing London’s film listings last weekend* I alighted upon a curiously titled Swedish film – Call Girl. Not wishing to sound some lecherous swine but this piqued my interest for a couple of reasons, firstly a more story driven, character and performance based piece was more attuned to my palette after the exhausting array of digital pyrotechnics of the last couple of months, and I have heard some reasonably good things about this film from its festival flashes, it’s certainly made quite a splash in its native Sweden – more on that later. The film arrives on these emerald tainted shores in the wake of a continuing sordid avalanche of sexual transgressions of yesteryear, with the Yewtree investigation continuing to unearth nausea inducing revelations of bell-bottomed celebrities using their cloak of fame to conceal  their predatory pedophilia, shattering a generations sepia toned reminiscences of a collective fondly remembered childhood. If you thought that George Lucas ‘raped your childhood’ – an absurdly overwrought and frankly offensive declaration given the real world pain and suffering caused by such repugnant behaviour – it’s almost hysterically comforting in a way to learn that these transgression were not restricted to our inbred Island, as it appears that the very highest echelons of the Swedish state was also shabbily screwing everything it could in an early fluid streaked iteration of the European Union.

call2Call Girl  is partially based on the true life controversy of a 1970’s sex ring managed by Dagmar Glans (Pernilla August), a manipulative madam of extortion and psychological seduction who procured naive and bruised young women from foster care and neglected backgrounds to sexually service the top-tier of government and civil service of Stockholm. Iris (Sofia Karemyr) is committed to a Laissez-faire foster centre which encourages a progressive approach to social rehabilitation, although it is forbidden a tacit blind eye is turned away from inmates sloping away in the middle of the night to go partying and petting in the nightclubs of the capital, the care workers taking a ‘girls will be girls’ option of treatment in the shadow of a sexually liberated, wider social contract.  When Iris’s old friend Sonja (Josefin Asplund) unexpectedly arrives at the centre the duo are inexorably sucked into Madame Glan’s swollen orbit, and plied with champagne and coke they are soon coerced into offering sexual favours in return for a charade of empathic nurturing from their middle-aged preening pimp. In a twin track narrative the film also follows the investigations of an idealistic young officer (Simon J. Berger) who clandestinely monitors the activities of Dagmar’s sordid conspiracy, with the resigned support of the Swedish Secret Service who are privy to the existence of the illegal encounters, their redacted intelligence less concerned with the underage transgressions or any potential political scandal than the possibility of precious state secrets being revealed through secretive post coital pillow-talk.

call4Unlike some of its fellow celluloid denizens of the bordello of Seventies porno chic – I’m thinking along the lines of Boogie Nights, Wonderland and more recently The Look Of Love and upcoming Lovelace this film doesn’t glaze the sleazy couplings with the veneer of a burlesque seduction, there are no visions of sequins glittering in titillating twirls, no cheeky winks to a mildly aroused audience, as Call Girl is more serious-minded fare  with its coldly unadorned gaze at unapologetic adolescent exploitation, and the overarching temperature is to jump in a cleansing shower as the credits roll. Call Girl is a cold and distanced, an almost resigned report on this sorry episode of Swedish social engineering, it doesn’t resort to the salacious or titillating, in fact some of the early glimpses of the underage undressed is almost mechanistic in its tedium, in its perfunctory presentation of the pubescent female form. Sofia Karemyr give a mildly intrigued performance which slowly dissolves to a compelling revulsion at her smothered social destruction, her coldly cruel madam hissing that ‘how would your parents like to know what you’ve been doing?’ once she is firmly enmeshed in the clutches of the oldest profession in the world, trapped in a web where her 14-year-old runaway word carries no weight against the objections of the respectable political pillars of society.

call3For another change to the usual paradigm the cops domestic status is also detailed with a modicum of reality, he isn’t some maverick hotshot who doesn’t take orders from the stiff necks down at City Hall, he’s just a career policeman, increasingly disgusted by what he records and observes, stonewalled and sidestepped by his superiors as he slowly realises that the conspiracy may reach to the very apex of the Swedish state – the film has been cut following a lawsuit in its native Sweden following scenes which outrageously alleged that the then Prime Minister may have been involved in the flagrant flesh-fair. The film doesn’t adopt a full neo-realist posture however, with a seductive and seething Giorgio Moroder influenced score from Mattias Bärjed which doesn’t always sit well with its quietly smouldering rage, in a rather uncomfortable mixture of nostalgia inflected period detail and disturbing in flagranti  incidents. The film lacks focus when making some loosely spurious connections between Sweden’s sexual liberalism of the period where in one scene we are informed that incest was abandoned as a criminal concept on the statute books and equally shockingly the legal definition of ‘rape’ could only be proved through a prosecutors successful evidencing of ‘overwhelming aggressive force’, and it never quite puts its finger on the sexual momentum which made these pinnacles of the establishment feel that they could safely conduct such behaviour, the political elite  tacitly supported and shielded by all covenants of the state. The closing frames suggest little in the way of redemption or escape from a life forever blighted by a naive manipulation, a sobering reminder that although the film is couched in a historical pseudo fiction some things never change;

* Good news for you Upstream Color infected out there who are eagerly awaiting a release into the water-table, the trailer is now showing at the Picturehouses which means that prints (or rather hard drives) are in the country so I’m guessing that after a modest London release a few screenings will percolate out further throughout the country….

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