A small town council’s promotional video doesn’t like ripe dramatic fruit, but it’s what’s at the heart of director Gabriela Pichler’s sophomore film Amateurs. The competition between the council sanctioned film and the rival movie made by two teenagers forms the basis for a film that explores immigration and globalization through the lens of a cell phone camera. The result is a charming and deceptively complex film that won top marks at the Goteborg Film Festival.
The film takes place in the fictional town of Lafors, a small industrial town in Sweden, struggling to keep pace with the modern economy as more and more jobs are outsourced. A chance for prosperity comes in the form of a German big box chain called Super Billy, who is considering building a store in Lafors that will create hundreds of jobs. In order to make their town seem attractive, Musse (Fredrik Dahl) and the town council ask the children of the town to make videos highlighting the town’s qualities. When the council decides it would be better to hire a professional filmmaker, high schoolers Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) and Dana (Yara Aliadotter) decide to continue filming. It’s a deceptively simple story that belies great thematic complexity.
Immigration may not be the film’s primary conflict, but it hangs over the film’s three protagonists like a specter. Aida is an Iraqi immigrant who lives with her aunt (Shada Ismaeel). Dana is the daughter of an exiled Turkish reporter turned baker (Persin Abdulrahman). Musse is an Indian immigrant who moved to Sweden as a child. They represent Sweden’s changing landscape, and experience anxiety and alienation in different but equally profound ways. Aida, a tomboy who boxes to learn self-defense, angers her aunt who believes that, because Aida is a poor immigrant, she cannot risk the trouble her film might get her into. Meanwhile, Musse is left adrift from both his heritage and his community. His mentally ill mother has lost her Swedish, and can only speak Tamil, a language he never learned in the interest of integrating. But, despite being wholly culturally Swedish, the filmmaker suggests he not appear in the film, as he doesn’t represent the look of the community.
Amateurs isn’t a political film in the conventional sense, but it captures a general anxiety about security in a society and a community. The council’s film seeks to create an image of Lafors as an idyllic hamlet that doesn’t exist, while Aida and Dana’s film becomes a video diary of a community’s hopes and fears. Super Billy represents economic security but at a cost, a sunset on a way of life.
Pichler’s film is also, in many ways, a film about filmmaking, or at least the act of being filmed. Aida and Dana start out with no filmmaking experience and no understanding of the responsibility of the person filming, learning as they go about the power of the camera. Amateurs raises interesting questions about consent and propriety in filmmaking. Aida and Dana aren’t always where they should be and don’t always stop to consider whether they should be filming. Video doesn’t equal truth, it equals perspective, and that changes depending on where you’re standing.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Amateurs packs a lot into a short, unassuming film. It touches on difficult issues and asks hard questions and it does it in a way that always feels charming. Pichler has made a political film that doesn’t feel political. It’s helped by a fantastic film debut by Zahraa Aldoujaili and a fantastic performance by Fredrik Dahl, who quietly becomes the film’s emotional core. It’s a hyper local film that taps into something that feels universally applicable. Amateurs is making it’s North American debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.