The synopsis of the new dark comedy from Swedish director Ernst De Geer sounds like it could have formed the basis of the sort of wacky Hollywood fare that might have starred Lily Tomlin back in the day. A young woman goes to a hypnotherapist seeking a cure for her smoking addiction, but the treatment comes with a side effect, namely that it also causes her to lose her social inhibitions. Zany complications ensue!
Fortunately, The Hypnosis (Hypnosen), receiving its world premiere at Karlovy Vary, has smarter things on its mind, which is not to say the film doesn’t feature broad-strokes humor. But it also offers knowing satirical commentary on conformity and relationships that benefits from razor-sharp comic dialogue and superb performances by its two leads.
The Bottom Line
Casts a satirical spell.
The story revolves around romantic and professional partners Andre (Herbert Nordrum, from The Worst Person in the World) and Vera (Asta Kamma August). The couple enjoy a playful, loving relationship while attempting to get their start-up business, an app dealing with women’s health issues, off the ground. Before they are scheduled to participate in a national conference called “Shake Up,” in which businesspeople pitch their wares to potential investors, Vera decides to see a hypnotist for her smoking problem. “Isn’t that mumbo-jumbo?” a skeptical Andre asks.
The treatment seems to work and the pair head to the conference, where they unveil their pitch. A vivacious Vera turns out to be a hit with her part of the presentation, but the anxious Andre comes across, in the conference leader’s acerbic words, “like an amusement park of nervous gestures.”
Vera at first proves highly popular with their fellow attendees, while Andre is pointedly not even invited to a mixer. But her behavior becomes increasingly erratic, from pouring herself a beverage at the hotel bar and walking away without paying to pretending to have an invisible chihuahua. Andre gets more and more rattled about allowing her to take part in the upcoming presentation; he takes the drastic step of knocking her out with sleeping pills mixed in her drink so he can deliver it solo. Needless to say, things don’t go quite as planned, with the proceedings soon entering mildly farcical territory.
What gives the film its distinction is the clever screenplay by De Geer (making his feature directorial debut) and co-writer Mads Stegger, filled with sharp observational and character-driven humor that transcends the fairly conventional premise. By the time it offers a series of plot twists towards the end that shift our perception of what’s occurred, it becomes clear that the story is more concerned with the relationship between the two protagonists than its plot machinations.
August is terrific as the sunny, personable Vera, making us care for her character from beginning to end. Nordrum is equally compelling in what proves a tougher assignment, since his character often behaves in a questionable manner that tests our sympathies. But Andre’s anxiety and desperation ultimately become so relatable that we root for him despite the cringe factor. By the film’s conclusion he performs an outlandish act of redemption that justifies our faith and wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a dark Hal Ashby comedy from the ’70s.
Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Crystal Globe Competition)
Production companies: Garagefilm International, Film I Vast, Mer Films, Totem Atelier
Cast: Herbert Nordrum, Asta Kamma August, Julien Combes, Karin de Frumerie
Director: Ernst De Geer
Screenwriters: Mads Stegger, Ernst De Geer
Producer: Mimmi Spang
Director of photography: Jonathan Bjerstedt
Production designer: Linda Elmborg
Costume designer: Fianna Robijn
Music: Peder Kjellsby
Editor: Robert Krantz
Casting: Archana Khanna
1 hour 38 minutes
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