For office drone Andreas, suicide is preferable to a world where everything is spotlessly clean, everyone’s “nice,” and every home looks like an Ikea showroom in “The Bothersome Man.” Delightfully droll sophomore feature by Norwegian helmer Jens Lien (“Jonny Vang”) creates a surreal dystopia that’s only a taupe-colored shade off of an outright realist depiction of contempo Scandinavia. Although marbled with bleak desperation, and sometimes gory in a harmless, slapstick way, this bone-dry black comedy could bother up bookings from niche distributors offshore and play well to offbeat-loving auds.
Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvag — think Vincent Cassel but with a weaker chin and higher forehead) is dropped off by a bus in the middle of a gray-toned desert (filmed, per credits, in Iceland’s Sprengisandur National Desert Reserve) and then driven into a tidy, unnamed city (actually Oslo, Norway) equally lacking in color.
He’s assigned a cozy apartment, and told to report to a tower block where smiling boss Havard (Johannes Joner) hands him an untaxing accountant job.
Before long, he’s effortlessly making friends with his colleagues and meets lacquered-haired interior designer Anne-Britt (Petronella Barker). The two shack up together and pursue a contented routine built around home improvement, more dinner parties and mechanical sex.
Trouble is Andreas can’t get used to this childfree world where all the food is literally tasteless, booze never gets you drunk, and no one is ever angry, sad or even ecstatically happy. More bizarre still, when he accidentally cuts off his finger it mysteriously grows back.
Even an attempt to commit suicide by throwing himself under a subway train fails to finish him off, and he stumbles back to life like a Wile E. Coyote in a blood-soaked suit. Lead Fausa Aurvag deserves kudos for just-so balance between underplayed expression and exaggerated physicality.
Dialogue never spells out the nature of the world depicted, although the send up of polite Scandie culture is obvious. Religiously inclined auds might see a vision here of either hell or heaven; others, just an absurdist Beckettian universe with more throw cushions.
Either way, script by Per Schreiner and Lien’s lean helming satisfyingly interlaces recurring characters, incidents and strands of dialogue to form a fugue-like structure, that falters just fractionally in last reels. (The oft-repeated line, “it’s very nice,” could serve as pic’s tagline.) Final evocative pay-off takes story literally and figuratively to another enigmatic place.
Given script was based on Schreiner’s own radio play, it’s unsurprising that sound design by Christian Schaanning plays such an key role in producing pic’s comic-creepy effect. Use of sound and impossible space recalls eerie worlds of David Lynch, while the visuals’ cold palette of neutrals and figure-dwarfing landscapes evoke work of Swedish helmer Roy Andersson (“Songs From the Second Floor”). Lien cited both helmers as influences at post-screening discussion at projection caught. Shades of Jacques Tati’s menacingly modernist houses are also detectable, and just a whiff of Tati’s whimsy.