A woman grieving for her dead child is drawn toward the man responsible in “Stockholm East,” the latest in a long line of Scandi dramas that boast strong perfs, elegant tech credits and solid direction, but are ultimately let down by ridiculously implausible storylines. Auds will be required to suspend a lot of disbelief to connect, but hard-working leads Mikael Persbrandt and Iben Hjejle help put the material across, as does debutant helmer Simon Kaijser da Silva’s respectable craftwork. Pic should go west, but may not travel as far as similar Nordic mellers did a few years back.
One morning in a well-to-do suburb of Stockholm, Johan (Persbrandt, “In a Better World”) is out driving and his car hits Tove (Erin Nilsson Kers), the 10-year-old daughter of Anna (Danish thesp Iben Hjejle, “High Fidelity”) and Anders (Henrik Norlen). The girl dies, and Johan is crippled with guilt, especially after seeing Anna’s stricken face at the hospital. He’s found innocent of negligence at the inquest, but still longs to make amends to Anna.
A year later, Anna and Johan meet by accident at Stockholm East train station and strike up a conversation. Johan of course knows who she is, but doesn’t reveal his role in Tove’s death. Anna also lies about herself in a different way, pretending her daughter is still alive, which gives her some solace after a solid year of grieving and accepting sympathy from friends and family. Before long, the two are having regular clandestine meetings, raising suspicions from Anders, who’s been pressuring Anna to consider having another child, and Johan’s live-in g.f., Kattis (Liv Mjones), who’s also desperate to breed.
Up until this point, the drama is just about believable, especially Anna’s odd but still plausible deception. Underscoring how much it means to Anna to imagine her daughter as still alive, Hjejle, in touching form here as she transitions from ingenue to sexy early middle age, seems to glow with pride when prattling on about Tove’s love of basketball and how fast she’s growing up. No parent could fail to feel moved.
Unfortunately, the last act descends into soap-opera-like ludicrousness, and the script by Pernilla Oljelund simply can’t pull off its contrived twists or give the characters enough depth to make their actions convincing. It doesn’t help that they seem like so many chess pieces being pushed around a highly decorated board (the production design favors lots of colored glass everywhere to suggest fragility). In the end, these people are essentially ciphers, about whom we know practically nothing, not even what they do for a living.
Lighting and lensing by Per Kallberg has a pretty, romantic quality in the love scenes, but otherwise looks much like many other post-Dogma Scandi mellers, with lots of handheld work and glaring sunlight. On the surface, pic is attractive enough to pass muster, and would look most at home on cable.