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A high-school dropout determines to transcend her troubled past, no matter the cost, in intense drama “Pure.” Although destined to be remembered as the film that made riveting 22-year-old thesp Alicia Vikander a star in her bigscreen debut, the strong writing, clever use of music and confidently nuanced visuals mark Swedish helmer-scribe Lisa Langseth as a talent to watch. Pic won Pusan’s Flash Forward competition, and reps provocative fare that will travel widely on the fest circuit.

Adapting her own play (which starred Noomi Rapace when it premiered at Stockholm’s Dramatic Theater in 2004), Langseth explores issues of class and culture in contempo Sweden. Her protagonist is 20-year-old Katarina (Vikander, in a visceral performance), the tightly wound daughter of a suicidal alcoholic.

Katarina’s savage soul finds solace in classical music, so she’s practically in heaven when she bluffs her way into a receptionist job at the Gothenburg Symphony. And she flowers under the attentions of the orchestra’s charismatic, married conductor Adam (Samuel Froler, casually cruel), who tries to cultivate her taste with recommended readings and recordings. But their brief affair leaves her more vulnerable than ever.

There are many pleasures in Langseth’s complex, multilayered screenplay, not least the irony of Katarina’s deadly serious interpretation of Adam’s favorite Kierkegaard quotation, “Courage is life’s only measure.” While a climactic plot twist may seem over-the-top given the story’s realism to that point, it makes deliciously wicked sense in terms of character development.

In a film full of contrasts, copious classical pieces (from Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and Massenet) counterpoint loud hip-hop sounds, just as sophisticated city-living opposes the limited offerings of the rough suburbs.

The sleek, realist production package poignantly underlines Katarina’s emotional ups and downs. At first, the stellar lensing by Simon Pramsten (“Sebbe”) frames her isolation outside the community she wants to join, but ultimately makes her a part of it. Meanwhile, the convincing wardrobe, hair and makeup designs also chart her metamorphosis from self-hatred to self-confident.

Pure

Sweden

  • Production: A Nordisk Film release of a Tre Vanner production in co-production with Film i Vast, Swedish Television, Nordisk Film Post Production, Dagsljus Filmequipment, Cloudberry Sound with support from SFI, Media. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by Helen Ahlsson. Executive producer, Michael Hjorth. Directed, written by Lisa Langseth, based on her play "Den alskade" (The Beloved).
  • Crew: Camera (color), Simon Pramsten; editor, Malin Lindstrom; music, Per-Erik Winberg; production designer, Lena Selander; sound (Dolby Digital), Henrik Ohlin; associate producers, Jessica Ask, Gunnar Carllson, Mikael Frisell, Helena Sandermark, Christian Holm. Reviewed on DVD, Chicago, Feb. 28, 2011. (In Berlin Film Festival -- market; Santa Barbara Film Festival -- competing; 2010 Pusan Film Festival -- Flash Forward.) Running time: 101 MIN.
  • With: With: Alicia Vikander, Samuel Froler, Josephine Bauer.
  • Music By: