Review: ‘We Can Be Heroes!’

One of the best Swedish films of the year, "We Can Be Heroes!" has enough depth and charm to appeal to a much broader audience than the kids who are its prime target. Both funny and tragic, and with a refreshing mixture of reality and surrealism, this visually striking film should enjoy a healthy life in Scandi theaters.

One of the best Swedish films of the year, “We Can Be Heroes!” has enough depth and charm to appeal to a much broader audience than the kids who are its prime target. Both funny and tragic, and with a refreshing mixture of reality and surrealism, this visually striking film by director Ulf Malmros about a young boy who dreams of flying should enjoy a healthy life in Scandi theaters, with excellent later returns on homevid. Offshore, it looks like a natural for next year’s Berlin Kinderfest.

Marcello (Ariel Petsonk), 10, lives with his parents in a small Swedish town. His father, Giuseppe (Michael Nyqvist), is a slightly dimwitted man who loves his son and wants him to become a professional soccer player. His mother, Gunilla (Anna Pettersson), was once an au pair in Italy, and wants Marcello to be a singer in the church choir.

But Marcello wants none of this; he can’t sing, he’s lousy at soccer — and he’s constantly bullied by three schoolmates. His dream is to be able to fly high above the neighborhood, but he’s so scared of heights that he faints every time he goes on the roof.

In desperation, Marcello starts conversing with the statue of Christ in church. Jesus (Pontus Stenshall) talks back to him and gives the young boy realistic, if somewhat cynical, advice on how to fix his life.

When a Lebanese family moves into a neighboring house, Marcello befriends the youngest kid, Fatima (Zamand Hagg). She’s an excellent soccer player and, given the chance, can beat any boy her age. She helps Marcello become a better player and conquer his acrophobia, while he helps her when she’s shaken down for money by one of the school bullies (Joel Ander). Outcome is satisfying on most levels, leaving everybody ready for a new start.

Scripter Peter Birro previously wrote the award-winning TV series “Hammarkullen,” as well as Lukas Moodysson’s equally laureled miniseries and feature film, “The New Country.” Helmer Malmros’ prior work includes the TV series “Report to Heaven” and feature “A Summer Tale,” but “Heroes!” surpasses both.

For starters, the young cast — led by newcomers Petsonk and Hagg — is excellent, even when up against seasoned pros like Nyqvist as Marcello’s dad and Ralph Carlsson as his teacher. The lesser-known Pettersson brings depth and emotion to the role of Marcello’s mother.

Most striking, however, is the ease with which Malmros and Birro incorporate the surreal into an otherwise realistic story about love and dreams. In sequences like Marcello summoning up money that pours out of a roof, or Christ calmly chatting with the boy, there’s no sense of the extra-ordinary or any need to explain things rationally.

In these days of DV technology, Malmros and d.p. Mats Olofsson go against the grain with sweeping, often breathtaking 35mm images that bring nuance to Marcello’s dreams of flying. There’s also a constant flow to the film that makes it seem shorter than its 89 minutes.

We Can Be Heroes!

Sweden

Production

A Sandrew Metronome release of a Goteborgsdramat presentation of a GotaFilm production, in association with Sandrew Metronome Intl., Film i Vast, MTVProduktion. (International sales: GotaFilm, Gothenburg, Sweden.) Produced by Christer Nilsson. Directed by Ulf Malmros. Screenplay, Peter Birro.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Mats Olofsson; editor, Malmros; music, Johan Soderqvist; art director, Louise Gylling; costume designer, Lotta Petersson; sound (Dolby SR/DTS Stereo), Ljudlabbet. Reviewed at Sandrew Metronome screening room, Stockholm, July 7, 2002. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Ariel Petsonk, Zamand Hagg, Michael Nyqvist, Anna Pettersson, Vilma Rogsten-Zammel, Ralph Carlsson, Joel Ander, Amir Barghashi, Rabia Ajami, Salam Al-Mosawy, Pontus Stenshall. (Swedish and Arabic dialogue)
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