The Austin Chronicle

Colin Nutley's House of Angels

Rated R. Directed by Colin Nutley. Starring Helena Bergstrom, Rikard Wolff, Sven Wollter, Jakob Eklund, Per Ocarsson.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 26, 1993

Swedish comedy? Directed by an Englishman? I can hear you now. “Sure, right,” you're saying with tongue planted firmly in cheek. But I kid you not. This new comedy of manners has broken all Swedish box office records. The story is about the conflicts between the old and the new, the provincial and the urban, the old and the young, the insular and the expansive, and the workers and the artistes. It's a universal story that's culturally specific. It's filled with charmingly sly performances that steal you into the world of the movie. It begins with a freak accident in which the rural village's wealthy landowner is knocked off his bicycle and killed by a car driven by the local minister as he listens to Abba. Everyone wants to know who will acquire the deceased's estate and some of them start angling to buy the farm now that the old man has finally “bought the farm.” During the funeral service, a pretty young blonde woman (Bergstrom) enters the church and mysteriously struts down the aisle to one of the front pews. Then, at the burial she blurts, “It's a shame I never met you, Grandpa.” This fish out of water is named Fanny and she is the rightful heir, much to the dismay of the locals who resent this stranger's bequest and her blatant unconventionality. Fanny is accompanied to the village by her equally unconventional male companion Zac (Wolff). They travel by motorcycle, wear leather and miniskirts, order wine by the case from the village store and invite their artist friends to come visit and go skinny-dipping. All portrayed with great humor, Fanny and Zac's arrival busts open some of the locals' hidden resentments. It becomes like a little soap opera in which we get to see the little secrets that go on behind closed doors. Adultery, pornography, premarital sex, gossip. It could be Twin Peaks, Pine Valley, Melrose Place or Podunk, Sweden. Out of the hostility and madness, a new kind of understanding and appreciation. House of Angels is filled with priceless moments, little bits of wry characterizations that hit human nature squarely on the head. Often subtle, the comedy is more the observational kind than the one-two-punchline kind. Aiming for some broad humanist message, the film seems more like an announcement of the dawn of the Aquarian Age. If it's weak in its simplistic vision of peace between warring factions, House of Angels more than compensates in its wonderful performances and understated good humor.

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