Synopsis: A Swedish woman returns to her home country after living 25 years abroad. She inherits a large building with an entire floor that’s occupied by residents without contracts.
Angry cinema can sometimes be good cinema. That is, when the director channels a snarky, sour and urgent social commentary into a coherent, engaging story that stirs the pot, raises questions and even push the audience’s buttons. But when this anger overshadows what the story itself is trying to say, we’re then left with a film that neither succeeds in properly addressing its themes nor connecting with the audience it was supposed to be made for.
Arthouse, gutsy cinema is certainly challenging – but there’s a captive audience yearning for daring cinema. But testing the audience’s patience has its limits – and when a film fails to hold their interest and just loses steam far too quickly, it is not the audience’s fault for not supporting an out-of-the-box cinema experience that tries to provoke but gets stuck midway.
THE REAL ESTATE unfortunately falls into this category. Swedish cinema has been recently paying attention to the stark class and social issues in the country and the country’s Oscar nominee THE SQUARE is an example of an engaging, even if divisive, look at the oblivious upper class who live in their own worlds of art exhibitions and ignore to see the real world outside. ESTATE addresses similar themes and shares with THE SQUARE its angry message – but while the latter is able to craft a story that clicks more often than not, THE REAL ESTATE falls flat because beyond the metaphors is an empty story looking for meaning.
The film opens with 68-year-old Nojet (Léonore Ekstrand) who is back in Sweden after her father passes away, leaving her one of his apartment buildings in Stockholm’s city center. The location is great and the building is worth a fortune but Nojet is left with two choices: either maintain it and run it – or just sell it altogether. After a tour in the building, she discovers, to her dismay, that the seventh floor includes several residents – mostly immigrants – who are occupying apartments without a legal contract. She then starts considering her options with advice from her family members and a one-night stand.
The fact that two directors – Axel Petersén and Måns Månsson – created this film did not help it make it any more focused or compelling. The problem starts with an excessive use of close-ups that removes the audience from the settings of the majority of the scenes. While some close-ups work well to get under the skin of Nojet, who is completely indifferent of the suffering of those occupying the seventh floor of her prized building, but the shaky camera and extreme use of close-ups yields a dizzying, repelling experience that never rewards.
After a 30-minute portion in which Petersen and Mansson use the building as a metaphor for present-day Sweden, the film seriously loses focus. It does not know whether it’s a political commentary or a character study – and it fails in both because it leaves many stones unturned. By the time the final moments of the film arrive, the audience is checked out and ironically just as Nojet herself, oblivious to what’s happening on screen.
Verdict: Unfocused, messy and awkward, THE REAL ESTATE does not deliver on several fronts. Its only strength lies in a ferocious Léonore Ekstrand but even she can’t help turn this into anything but a slog.
Grade: C –