There surely won’t be an uglier movie in the Berlin competition this year than “The Real Estate,” nor one so deeply unpleasant on every level. Whether it’s the tediously coarse characters, some of whom appear to have been poached from a Swedish “Twin Peaks” knock-off, the deliberately unattractive lensing that makes you gasp for air, or simply the absence of any remotely genuine statement, this patience-tester about a hard-living dame inheriting an apartment building feels like the sort of thing cobbled together in a hash-induced haze by a couple of homeboys with nothing to say. The fact that co-directors Axel Petersén (“Avalon”) and Måns Månsson (“The Yard”) made accomplished films before now is even more perplexing, as is the head-scratching discovery that “The Real Estate” somehow made it through multiple film labs. It’ll be easier to offload a fire-damaged tenement in Trenton than find buyers for this misguided housing project.
Can it really be that the directors’ raison d’être was to call attention to overpriced housing in Stockholm? Hard to believe since they barely bother showing any of the tenants in the run-down building Nojet (Léonore Ekstrand) inherits from her father. She’s just back from a couple of decades away in Spain, where years of smoking and partying have left their mark on her hardened face. What she finds is discouraging: Her speech-impaired brother Mickey (Olof Rhodin) has mismanaged the building, and together with his alcoholic son Chris (Christian Saldert), they’ve encouraged illegal sublets while pocketing the fees.
Nojet wants to sell and asks advice from her father’s lawyer Lex (Christer Levin), a pervy-looking older guy sidelining as a music producer who’s styled like a 1970s shyster. His advice: Offload quickly, because the moment the tenants get wind of a possible sale, they’ll form a co-op and preempt any transaction. She gets renewed energy after a cocaine-fueled romp with a potential buyer in a scene that would nab hands-down the cinema equivalent of the Bad Sex in Fiction award, but when the guy disappears, and her panicking nephew attacks her, she decides it’s time to get tough.
If there was any logic to start with, it’s completely jettisoned by the end, not to mention the bizarre appearance of Lex’s protégé Don (Don Bennechi, looking like Brando as Col. Kurtz with heavily made-up eyebrows) dropping in to record a ballad about homelessness. Given that everyone but Ekstrand are non-professionals — and that the intuitive actress herself entered the business because she’s Petersen’s aunt — the answer probably springs from the idea that these eccentrics are presumed to exude some Lynchian aura of “cool,” when in fact, they’re merely ridiculous.
Even worse than the hipster misanthropy are the dyspeptic visuals, mostly composed of unattractive handheld close-ups. Tightly composed so there’s barely any daylight apart from some rare medium shots when Nojet goes to Lex’s farm, the film is awash in lurid fluorescent lighting or annoyingly plunged in partial darkness, with characters shown against cement walls or other harsh materials that offer no escape, including aurally since the irritating soundscape assaults with high-pitched noise. Sure, its deliberate, but without a demonstrable reason for all this ugliness, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we’ve just been taken for a ride.