An offbeat, blackly humorous love story with a grotesque edge, "Junk Mail" announces a quirky talent in former stills photog and commercials director Pal Sletaune that's very much in line with the harder-edged, grungier stuff coming from the younger ranks of Scandi directors. This cleverly scripted item doesn't quite go the distance with its engaging premise but could get limited arthouse distribution, with small-screen sales more likely. Roy (Robert Skjaerstad) is a dopey Oslo mailman who lives alone in a grungy apartment, steals the occasional letter and hardly gets on with his colleagues at work. One day, he finds some keys left in the mailbox of a deaf woman, Line (Andrine Saether), and on a whim uses them to enter her apartment while she's out. Nosing around, he hears a message on her voice mail from a certain Georg (Per Egil Aske) that seems to tie her in to some crime.

Events soon conspire to draw him deeper and deeper into Line’s world. Hospitalized after being beaten up on his rounds, Roy catches sight of Line exiting the room of a patient, who turns out to be a security guard beaten up in a recent robbery. Intrigued, Roy revisits Line’s apartment, and is on hand to save her when she returns and tries to commit suicide with sleeping pills.

Infatuated with the young woman, but still keeping his distance, Roy later follows her to a meeting with Georg on the subway in which she says she wants out. Through a complex series of coincidences, he ends up trying to protect her from Georg but instead puts himself in the psychotic villain’s sights.

The film eschews the usual ultra-clean look of Scandi pics by setting the action in run-down apartments, dirty side streets, railway sidings and other non-tourist areas of Oslo. This could be any European city, and the cast of social outsiders — somewhere between the Czech New Wave and David Lynch — might come from the underbelly of any country.

Though the movie is basically an extended short story, Sletaune and co-scripter Jonny Halberg have concocted enough incident and clever twists of fate to hold the attention most of the time. There’s an impressive Swiss-watch precision to the script, with apparently unimportant events and objects (like the watch given to Roy by his employers) later assuming greater importance, and influencing events.

Where the film doesn’t quite succeed is in drawing together the emotional lines between the two main characters at an earlier stage: Until the final scene, when Roy explains what has been going on to the bemused Line, the only people in on the joke are him and the audience. More interplay between the leads at an earlier stage would have given the pic a warmth it’s largely missing.

Tim Roth look-alike Skjaerstad is fine as the unkempt, hangdog mailman, though the role calls for no great acting. Ditto Saether as Line, who, despite her beautiful looks is shown, through the contents of her apartment, to be just as much a solitary, weird soul as Roy. Aske brings some welcome flamboyance to the movie as the eye-rolling loony Georg.

Tech credits are all fine, with Joachim Holbek’s twangy string score heightening the absurdist atmosphere.

Junk Mail

Norwegian

Production

A MovieMakers production, in association with Norsk Film and Atlas Film. (International sales: BV Intl., Avaldsnes, Norway.) Produced by Dag Nordahl, Peter Boe. Co-producers, Tom Remlov, Anders Berggren. Directed by Pal Sletaune. Screenplay, Sletaune, Jonny Halberg

Crew

Camera (color), Kjell Vassdal; editor, Pal Gengenbach; music, Joachim Holbek; production design, Karl Juliusson; costume design, Bente Winther-Larsen; sound (Dolby), Berndt Frithiof, Ragge Samuelson, Sturla Einarson. Reviewed at Mr. Young's preview theater, London, May 1, 1997. (In Cannes Film Festival --- Intl. Critics Week.) Running time: 79 MIN.

With

Roy ..... Robert Skjaerstad Line ..... Andrine Saether Georg ..... Per Egil Aske Betsy ..... Eli Anne Linnestad
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