This article was updated on July 6, 2006.
Fully loaded, with spot-on performances and remarkable direction, “Swedish Auto” weaves the kind of spell that can only come from a sure-handed storyteller. Like the ’67 Volvo referenced in the title, this naturalistic character piece isn’t build for speed — or comfort, either. But it takes you places before you even know you’re moving. Indie audiences and festival crowds will want to hitch a ride.
“Swedish Auto” marks the debut of a singular talent in Derek Sieg, writer-helmer of this charming, poignant drama about marginalized people.
Carter (sad-eyed Lukas Haas), a character who seems like a combination of Holden Caulfield and Boo Radley, was orphaned long ago by a car crash. Carter now is the go-to mechanic in a Charlottesville, Va., auto garage run by Leroy (Lee Weaver) and staffed by Carter and Leroy’s ill-tempered son, Bobby (Chris Williams).
Among his failings, Carter is a stalker, albeit one without much ambition. He hangs around the apartment of beautiful blond violinist Ann Shelton’s (Brianne Davis), but only to watch her and listen to her play. He has no friends, a vague attraction to astronomy and a static attraction to Darla (January Jones), who works at the local diner and has a thing for Carter.
Out of this comes a very patient, very confident revelation of character and background, buoyed by the evocative music of Josh Robertson and expert sound editing of Ahmad Shirazi. The effect is both dreamlike and immediate; you can smell the brake fluid and grease, and at the same time be swept up by the romance.
Haas covers the waterfront of emotions, never missing a beat; he and Jones are adorable as the oddly matched couple who are treated badly, mostly because their abusers can get away with it.
There’s a well-calibrated naivete at the heart of “Swedish Auto,” which together with Richard Lopez’s expert cinematography and Sieg’s creative use of a limited budget, make the movie a study in state-of-the-art-indie filmmaking.