Swedish comedy group Killingganget makes its feature debut with "Four Shades of Brown," a close-to-dystopian look at a country where people are rootless and where real communication seems impossible. Pic plays like Roy Andersson ("Songs From the Second Floor") meets Ulrich Seidl ("Dog Days"), and the result is a darkly funny, gut-wrenching and disturbing movie. Group's cult following, plus good reviews, should make it a local hit, as it fans out in release, starting Jan. 30. Offshore, its three-hour-plus length will pose a problem, but festival buzz should ensure satisfying sells.

Swedish comedy group Killingganget makes its feature debut with “Four Shades of Brown,” a powerful, close-to-dystopian look at a country where people are rootless and where real communication seems impossible. Pic plays like Roy Andersson (“Songs From the Second Floor”) meets Ulrich Seidl (“Dog Days”), and the result is a darkly funny, gut-wrenching and disturbing movie. Group’s cult following, plus good reviews, should make it a local hit, as it fans out in release, starting Jan. 30. Offshore, its three-hour-plus length will pose a problem, but festival buzz should ensure satisfying sells.

Killingganget, which teams Tomas Alfredson, Robert Gustafsson, Jonas Inde, Andres Lokko, Martin Luuk, Johan Rheborg and Henrik Schyffert, has been enjoying increasing popularity for several years. Stage shows, the TV series “Nilecity 105.6″ and some well-received one-hour TV films have shown them becoming more and more accomplished as storytellers and filmmakers. From the beginning, gang’s humor has leaned toward the ironic, but in recent years it’s become darker and more serious. “Four Shades of Brown” is a logical continuation of this.

An opening series of shots from a helicopter shows differing Swedish landscapes. Pic breaks down into four separate stories that don’t crisscross in either time or locale. What links the tales (which later will be developed into four one-hour TV-films) is an overall mood of tragedy and the fact members of Killingganget each play a couple of roles.

First story, set in Dalaarna, centers on a young man (Inde) who comes home for the funeral of his father, a wealthy and powerful man who, nevertheless, narrates. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear why the son had every reason to hate his dad.

In the story set in the southern county of Skane, top comedian Gustafsson plays Christer, a man in a loveless marriage with a woman (Maria Kulle) who’s son, (Karl Linnertorp), is doing badly at school and can’t communicate with his parents. To encourage the boy, Christer takes him to work, where the son causes an accident that leaves the father face badly scarred.

Third yarn takes place at Hotel Brunna on Sweden’s western coast, where owner Richard (Schyffert) and wife Tove (Anna Bjork) await the arrival of Richard’s parents (Iwar Wiklander, Karin Ekstrom). What they aren’t expecting is that, on the way, Richard’s mom has picked up another man (Finn Nielsen) as her lover.

In the fourth story, a group of people meet once a week to talk about themselves and their lives. It’s gradually revealed this is a cooking course that’s turned into a series of psychological sessions. As the confessions become more revealing, it turns out a couple of the characters knew each other years back, and the outcome is as powerful as it is tragic.

Due to its length, pic has a built-in intermission at the 100-minute mark. But thanks to the engaging stories, mostly very good acting and, not least, excellent editing by Louise Brattberg, it never feels over-long. Action jumps effortlessly between the four stories, which support each other as they become increasingly darker and more tragic. One story features a surprising final twist.

In their TV films, the members of Killingganget played several different characters in each episode, a la “Monty Python.” In “Four Shades,” the most any actor appears in is two stories. Gustafsson is by far the best actor, Rheborg again proves he’s become an accomplished thesp in the past couple of years, and Ulf Brunnberg, mostly thought of as an actor in lightweight comedies, gives a heart-wrenching portrait of a man haunted by his past.

Helmer Alfredson first worked with Killingganget — whose name is meaningless — a couple of years ago, directing their four one-hour TV films. In “Brown,” he keeps a cool eye on the group’s writing, and is a welcome restraining influence.

Whatever its fortunes offshore, pic is a very good and very brave portrait in black of a country often seen as a model, caring society.

Four Shades of Brown

Sweden

Production

A Svensk Filmindustri release of a Swedish TV production, in association with Nordisk Film. (International sales: Svensk Filmindustri, Stockholm.) Produced by Caisa Westling. Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Screenplay, Alfredson, Robert Gustafsson, Jonas Inde, Andres Lokko, Martin Luuk, Johan Rheborg, Henrik Schyffert.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Leif Benjour; editor, Louise Brattberg; art director, Eva Noren; costume designer, Kicki Hander; sound (DTS stereo), Erik Nasman. Reviewed at Swedish Film Institute screening room, Stockholm, Dec. 10, 2003. (In Rotterdam Film Festival -- competing; also in Gothenburg Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 192 MIN. (I: 100 MIN.; II: 92 MIN.).

With

Robert Gustafsson, Jonas Inde, Andres Lokko, Martin Luuk, Johan Rheborg, Henrik Schyffert, Maria KulleKarl Linnertorp, Anna Bjork, Iwar Wiklander, Karin Ekstrom, Finn Nielsen, Ulf Brunnberg.
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