×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Charmer’

An enigmatic Iranian immigrant pursues a Danish paper marriage in Milad Alami's subtly engrossing, psychologically fraught debut.

Director:
Milad Alami
With:
Ardalan Esmaili, Soho Rezanejad, Lars Brygmann, Susan Taslimi, Amalie Lindegård. (Danish, Farsi, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5668850/

The visa-motivated courtship of convenience has been the subject of many a romantic comedy, though when you consider the bleak reality of the situation, it’s hardly a laughing matter: For one’s life and location to hang in the balance, determined by cold governmental paperwork and the fickle whims of a stranger’s heart, is a quandary likelier to end in despair than delight. “The Charmer,” an accomplished, deceptively titled debut feature from Danish-based Iranian filmmaker Milad Alami, treats the situation with anxious gravity, following an Iranian immigrant in Denmark as he trawls the singles-bar circuit in desperate pursuit of a ticket to remain. What seems a premise for an earnest social-issue drama is darkened and complicated, however, by a progressively noir-ish strain of morally elusive mystery — enhancing the international distribution prospects of a topical, tightly wound slow-burner.

A note of troubling discord is struck from the enigmatic first scene of “The Charmer,” as a young blonde woman slowly pads around the interior of a comfy, plushly appointed Copenhagen apartment before launching herself, quite suddenly and decisively, out of the living-room window, while an unseen cohabitant showers in the room next door. It takes some time for this disorienting opening gambit to lock into place, as the unidentified woman’s abruptly curtailed narrative calmly gives way to the seemingly unconnected story of Esmail (Swedish-Iranian actor Ardalan Esmaili, impressive in only his second feature), a young Iranian expat who’s as handsome, suave and affable as the title implies.

He’s a catch with a catch, however. On the Copenhagen nightlife strip he favors, single women see him as an urbane eligible bachelor, in the kind of sharply cut business suit that implies a closet full of expensively identical ones at home. What they don’t know is that he’s living in nervous limbo, rapidly running out of time on his migrant visa, eking out a living as a furniture mover while rooming in a shelter for similarly unmoored male immigrants. (He also has only the one nightly-worn suit, as precious and exhaustively maintained as any superhero costume — an incidental ritual that keep’s snagging the camera’s notice.) Those aren’t the only problems with this picture, but Alami and Ingeborg Topsøe’s finely whittled screenplay plays its revelations patiently, putting a lot of early trust in their leading man’s powers of silent implication and the serene foreboding of Sophia Olsson’s charcoal-streaked cinematography.

We meet Esmail at the tail-end of a relationship with a Danish woman that one might guess has followed the arc of several others before it: Despite their sexual chemistry and his outward viability, she breaks it off, complaining that he’s “rushing it.” She’s not wrong; she just doesn’t know the real reason why. Back to the bars it is, then — though in an otherwise astutely observed contemporary piece, it’s a curious false note that someone so urgently in need of romantic partnership hasn’t pursued online or app-based dating options. In any event, when he meets whip-smart, Iranian-born Danish citizen Sara (electropop singer Soho Rezanejad, making a striking screen debut), his problems might be solved — though she’s got his number, and isn’t willing to make it easy for him.

As time tenderizes their initially guarded attraction and “The Charmer” tentatively blossoms into a romance, we wonder if our hero might not even have to settle for a paper marriage. As it turns out, true love simplifies very little in a narrative as sharply secretive as the man at its center. As a pair of urgent but elliptical subplots close in on Esmail, notes of paranoid psychodrama — as unsettled as the trembling strings of Martin Dirkov’s score — enter the mix in a film that confidently straddles tones for much of its running time, only once or twice teetering into over-cranked genre territory.

Alami’s keen-eyed, detail-oriented insight into Scandinavia’s growing Iranian community, with its subtle internal divisions and its sliding scale between assimilation and proud cultural preservation, gives “The Charmer” resonance beyond its more intimate effectiveness as a character thriller; it’s a film that shares its somewhat cool empathy across the very different experiences of people on either side of the integration line. Esmaili’s quietly agitated, deftly code-switching performance, meanwhile, must persuasively evoke any one of those life stories depending on the company he’s in, holding the viewer’s gaze while continually backing away from our full acquaintance. Esmail’s future may be up in the air for most of the film; Esmaili’s looks rather more assured.

Film Review: 'The Charmer'

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (New Directors — opener), Sept. 22, 2017. Running time: 101 MIN. (Original title: "Charmøren")

Production: (Denmark) A Good Company Films production in coproduction with Garagefilm International, Film i Väst, Act3, RedRental, FilmGear. (International sales: Alma Cinema, Paris.) Producer: Stinna Lassen. Executive producers: Anni Fernandez, Vibeke Windeløv, Ole Søndberg, Olivier Muller, Gary Farkas, Clement Lepoutre. Co-producers: Mimmi Spång, Rebecka Lafrenz, Tomas Eskilsson.

Crew: Director: Milad Alami. Screenplay: Alami, Ingeborg Topsøe. Camera (color): Sophia Olsson. Editor: Olivia Neergaard-Holm. Music: Martin Dirkov.

With: Ardalan Esmaili, Soho Rezanejad, Lars Brygmann, Susan Taslimi, Amalie Lindegård. (Danish, Farsi, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Alamode Acquires Lone Scherfig’s ‘The Kindness

    Alamode Acquires Lone Scherfig’s Berlin Opener ‘The Kindness of Strangers’

    Munich-based Alamode has taken German and Austrian rights to Lone Scherfig’s “The Kindness of Strangers,” ahead of the picture’s opening-night gala screening at the Berlin Film Festival next month. Alamode acquired the rights from London-based HanWay Films, which is handling worldwide sales. Entertainment One is distributing the film in Canada and SF Studios in Scandinavia. [...]

  • Voltage Pictures to Produce Airborne Thriller

    Voltage Pictures to Produce Airborne Thriller 'Blackwing' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Voltage Pictures will produce and fully finance screenwriter David Loughery’s latest thriller “Blackwing,” Variety has learned exclusively. The company will introduce “Blackwing” to buyers at the upcoming European Film Market at the Berlin Film Festival, which opens Feb. 7. More Reviews Iranian Film Festival New York Review: 'Sheeple' Film Review: ‘Storm Boy’ Nicolas Chartier and [...]

  • ‘Metro Exodus’ Opens Up Post-Apocalyptic Russia

    ‘Metro Exodus’ Author On Film, Possible TV Series, Expansive New Game

    Since the launch of the post-apocalyptic survival first-person shooter “Metro 2033” in 2010, the series has kept its action confined to the tunnels running underneath Russia. “Metro Exodus,” due out next month, takes the gameplay to the surface for the first time, going above ground with sprawling levels against a changing backdrop of weather conditions [...]

  • Berlin Film 'The Ground Beneath My

    Berlin Competition Film 'The Ground Beneath My Feet' Sold to Germany's Salzgeber (EXCLUSIVE)

    Salzgeber has acquired the German rights for Berlin Film Festival competition title “The Ground Beneath My Feet” from sales agent Picture Tree International. Variety has been given exclusive access to the film’s trailer. Salzgeber will release the film, directed by Marie Kreutzer, mid-May. Picture Tree describes the movie as a “contemporary female-led drama touching on [...]

  • Donald Glover'Atlanta' TV show premiere, Arrivals,

    Childish Gambino Surprises Beverly Hills Crowd With Reimagined 'Redbone'

    Donald Glover made an unexpected appearance at Film Independent’s “An Evening With…” series on Tuesday, held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills and presented by the HFPA. Joining “Black Panther” composer and Childish Gambino collaborator Ludwig Göransson, who was the subject of a Q&A conducted by “The Treatment” host Elvis Mitchell, [...]

  • 76th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS --

    Film News Roundup: Glenn Close Selected for Oscar Wilde Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Glenn Close gets an honor, AFI names its Directing Workshop for Women participants and Teri Polo gets cast in a Christmas drama. CLOSE HONOR More Reviews Iranian Film Festival New York Review: 'Sheeple' Film Review: ‘Storm Boy’ Glenn Close will be honored on Feb. 21 by the US-Ireland Alliance at [...]

  • Jason Reitman Ghostbusters

    Jason Reitman to Direct Secret 'Ghostbusters' Movie

    Sony Pictures is getting the wheels in motion for the next installment in the “Ghostbusters” franchise, and it knows who it’s going to call to direct: Jason Reitman. Sources tell Variety that Reitman, whose father, Ivan, directed the first two “Ghostbusters” movies, will direct the latest pic in the famous franchise. More Reviews Iranian Film Festival [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content