In times of crisis, who hasn’t wished to be someone else, leading a completely different life untouched by hardship, loss or strife? Swedish helmer Lisa Langseth trades on this universal sentiment with her cathartic oddball drama “Hotell,” a guilty-pleasure tale of a therapy group that starts its own unique course of treatment. Creating a sympathetic brew of humor, compassion, awkwardness and devastation, Langseth draws intense and committed performances from a fine cast that that includes Alicia Vikander, the star of the director’s feature debut, “Pure.” Fests will definitely want to check in.
Langseth came to filmmaking from a background as a playwright and theater director, and although “Hotell” was written directly for the screen rather adapted from one of her plays (like “Pure”) it has a classic three-act structure that testifies to her stage experience.
Young, affluent and expecting her first child, type-A interior designer Erika (Vikander) thinks she has everything under control. The nursery is ready, the best (and most expensive) changing table is on order, and her C-section is booked. But fate has something different in store: When she prematurely delivers a critically ill child, Erika just can’t cope. She sinks further into depression and refuses to deal with reality — or the baby — causing her more practical partner (Simon J. Berger ) to lose patience.
Unable to confront her own pain, she tries group therapy, where she distracts herself by listening to the problems of others. There she meets torture-obsessed Rikard (David Dencik), who has major mommy issues; pathologically timid Ann-Sofi (Mira Eklund); lonely, middle-aged Pernilla (Anna Bjelkerud); and silent Peter (Henrik Norlen). When the therapy group leader goes on vacation, the members decide to explore the notion of making a fresh start by going somewhere no one knows them — namely, the well-appointed confines of anonymous hotels.
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After the longish first-act set up, the pic enters a playful mode that rivets attention as the characters start to respond to their unconventional, self-prescribed treatment and come out of their shells; perhaps the most amusing segment depicts how Pernilla’s desire for sex is satisfied. But while the others seem to achieve major breakthroughs with their problems, Erika progresses more slowly until the stormy second-act climax, which proves that Rikard may be on to something with his idea about alleviating psychic pain through physical suffering.
Although some may find Langseth’s approach to surviving trauma absurd, many more will doubtless find it liberating, inspiring and endearing, and the director maintains a warmth and respect for all her characters through variations in tone and behavior.
First among equals in the terrific cast is Dencik, once again proving himself one of Europe’s finest character actors. While the expressive Vikander (who, like Dencik, was in “A Royal Affair”) proved the discovery in “Pure,” “Hotell” should boost the career of the ethereal-looking Eklund, whose otherworldly singing voice bookends the pic.
Jumpy, Dogma 95-style lensing by Simon Pramsten provides intimacy as well as edginess. Production design makes use of odd colors including neon orange and an unflattering salmon shade.