Inspired by the 1976 prostitution scandal that led straight to the heart of the Swedish government, helmer Mikael Marcimain's masterful feature debut, "Call Girl," is a meaty, never-sensationalistic political thriller that benefits from its slow-burn approach.

Inspired by the 1976 prostitution scandal that led straight to the heart of the Swedish government, helmer Mikael Marcimain’s masterful feature debut, “Call Girl,” is a meaty, never-sensationalistic political thriller that benefits from its slow-burn approach. Set against the backdrop of election season in Stockholm, where politicians in what is regarded as the model utopian society legislate new rights for women even as they hypocritically patronize underage whores, the complex narrative plays out in multiple intersecting strands. Euro sales are already brisk, but “Girl” will require some cuts Stateside to conform to laws regulating nudity by minors.

World-preemed at the Toronto fest, the pic won the Fipresci international critics prize for best film in the Discovery section. It begins its Swedish rollout Nov. 9 after opening the Stockholm festival.

Lurking at the center of the plot, like some malevolent spider sending her silken strands to ensnare all those who come in contact with her, is busy madam Dagmar Glans (a tour-de-force performance by Pernilla August, clearly reveling in the chance to play a full-blooded but always credible baddie). Operating her business with the help of sleazy pimp/chauffeur Glenn (Sven Nordin) and Polish beauty Sasja (Ruth Vega Fernandez), she maintains a black book full of government officials, foreign ambassadors and criminals.

Dagmar’s stable includes students and housewives in need of ready cash, but she also recruits young teens. When she crosses paths with willful 14-year-old cousins Iris (Sofia Karemyr) and Sonia (Josefin Asplund), who escape their suburban juvenile home by night in search of thrills, she knows she can groom them into something special, since youth is particularly seductive to the corrupt and powerful. Dispensing a mixture of lavish praise and trendy new clothes, as well as booze and drugs, steely Dagmar soon has them turning tricks for the high and mighty despite their pleas to get out of the game.

Meanwhile, Dagmar’s activities are being monitored by various branches of the police and security service, as well as by a string-pulling government liaison officer (David Dencik). Devoted young sleuth Johan (Simon J. Berger) and retirement-ready homicide cop Roy (Anders Beckman) accumulate evidence of procurement and more, but not everyone in power welcomes the findings of their investigation.

Working from a strong script by Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten, Marcimain directs in a confident style, revealing an eye for period detail and a willingness to take time building nuanced characters. Marcimain cut his teeth on several prize-winning TV miniseries and as second unit director on Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” all shot by lenser Hoyte van Hoytema, who does standout widescreen work here.

One of the most memorable scenes is a special black-tie dinner for the well-connected at which Dagmar and her retinue, clad in revealing harem-girl outfits, provide table service. As the evening ends with Dagmar and Sasja atop the table in a pastie-shaking dance, it’s difficult to believe that another Swedish actress will be able to surpass August’s achievements here.

The superb craft package perfectly captures the gritty realism of a world where glittery sex clubs exist within a stone’s throw of somber government offices, and their respective inhabitants often lie closer.

Call Girl

Sweden-Ireland-Norway-Finland

Production

A Garagefilm Intl., Newgrange Pictures, Friland Produksjon, Yellow Film & TV, Film i Vast, SVT, the Chimney Pot, Dagsljus, Nouvago Capital production with the support of the SFI, Finnish Film Institute, Irish Film Board, NFI. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by Mimmi Spang. Executive producers, Helena Danielsson, Maria Dahlin. Co-producers, Lesley McKimm, Jackie Larkin, Christian Fredrik Martin, Therese Bohn, Jarkko Hentula, Olli Haikka, Jessica Ask, Gunnar Carlsson, Frank Bonn, Frederik Lonnqvist, Fredrik Zander, Helena Sandermark. Directed by Mikael Marcimain. Screenplay, Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Hoyte van Hoytema; editor, Kristofer Nordin; music, Mattias Barjed; music supervisor, Rasmus Thord; production designers, Lina Nordqvist, Michael Higgins; costume designer, Cilla Roerby; sound (Dolby Digital 5.1), Petter Fladeby, Per Nystrom. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 8, 2012. (Also in Stockholm Film Festival -- opener.) Running time: 140 MIN.

With

Pernilla August, Sofia Karemyr, Simon J. Berger, Sven Nordin, David Dencik, Ruth Vega Fernandez, Josefin Asplund, Magnus Krepper, Kristoffer Joner, Anders Beckman. (Swedish, English dialogue)

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