A Scandi folk-rock icon gets the biopic treatment in “Cornelis,” the second feature by Swedish rapper-turned-helmer Amir Chamdin. Slickly mounted enterprise provides an entertaining enough life story and plenty of vintage tunes, though neither director nor first-time scenarist Antonia Pyck is able to escape a pervasive air of tortured-artist cliches straight out of subgenre parody “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” Exposure isn’t likely to extend far beyond the northern territories, where Cornelis maintains considerable posthumous popularity.
Rotund Cornelis Vreeswijk (ably played by Hans-Erik Dyvik Husby of veteran Norwegian punk outfit Turbonegro) was a Dutch war refugee who grew up in Sweden, separated from his family. The pic is rather vague on details, though this trauma is posited as a psychological Achilles’ heel for Cornelis.
Fooling around with the guitar as a hobby while working as a psychiatric nurse, he attracted attention beginning in the early 1960s for original songs full of caustic humor and political engagement. He was championed initially by established singer Fred Akerstrom (David Dencik), painted here as chagrined by his pal rapidly outpacing his own popularity.
Akerstrom wasn’t the only one who felt the singer pass him by. Cornelis’ first wife (Malin Crepin), a son by that relationship, his loyal producer (Johan Glans), and subsequent spouses all eventually felt the brunt of Cornelis’ neglect, philandering and mood swings. A fondness for booze and pills fostered paranoia (portrayed as a sort of Svensk Brian Wilson meltdown period) as well as serious health problems. His refusal to deal with some petty offenses led to short stints in prison.
Despite several successful comebacks, Cornelis was so disdainful of fiscal responsibility — never paying taxes, living luxuriously under frequent threat of property seizure — that he died in debt at age 50. Ironically, his 1987 demise occurred just before yet another resurgence in record-sales popularity that has scarcely ebbed since.
Husby (aka Hank von Helvete, who’s had some well-publicized past substance problems of his own), nails the various genial, witty, childish and self-destructive aspects of a title figure who’s rarely offscreen. Supporting turns are expert, shifting period flavors over the course of a quarter-century without caricature.
It’s no one’s fault that diverting as the pic is, it seldom escapes a formulaic feel; Cornelis’ demons are cut from a cloth very common to popular musicians’ life stories, with individual incidents of excess portrayed here that might as well have been borrowed from similar biopics.
While we see a few later career lowlights, the pic just briefly nods to the subject’s sideline as a stage and screen actor, notably via clips from Brazil-set 1968 lark “Svarta Palmkroner,” where Cornelis provided comedy relief amid the lofty likes of Max von Sydow and Bibi Andersson.
Packaging is pro.