Behind Blue Skies (2010) dir. Hannes Holm
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Peter Dalle and Josefin Ljungman
By Greg Klymkiw
What the world needs now, more than ever, are coming-of-age pictures wherein the mentor-figure is a drug dealer, thief and pimp. In this respect, Behind Blue Skies delivers in spades. This surprisingly sweet and thoroughly engaging item from Sweden, is a bit like a teenage My Life As A Dog, with dollops of American Pie and Goodfellas tossed into the mix for good measure.
This is a tremendously entertaining, funny, sexy, sly and even profoundly moving picture that stays with you well beyond its closing credits. There are a number of extremely good reasons for this.
First and foremost, helmer Hannes Holmes's screenplay is a real treat. Each time a plot turn felt like it was going into traditional territory, the proceedings took ever-so slight deviations - like delicious bon-bons tossed playfully into one's mouth just as it was opening to emit a yawn.
Secondly, Holmes's assured directorial hand provided a lot in the way of sumptuous visual treats in terms of the northern and southern juxtapositions of Sweden's topography in summertime - from the dull, grey beauty of endless cloudy skies in the protagonist's hometown to the brilliant blue of the heavens in what becomes his potential vacation paradise. This, of course, expertly provided perfectly appropriate backdrops to the character's life and state of mind within the context of the narrative.
Holmes's proficiency in terms of covering the action of his main story is also a definite bonus. His camera is seldom where it shouldn't be and yet, never feels by-the-numbers, nor by the same token, overtly showy. As well, his deft handling of the fine cast is equally winning.
Thirdly, the cast is magnificent! From the the delightful trio of leading players, through all the supporting character roles and finally, even to bit players and background extras, one seldom discovers a false note.
Set in the glorious 70s, the picture tells the tale of teenager Martin (the mind-numbingly gorgeous and engaging Bill Skarsgård) who lives amidst the chaos of an extremely lower middle class family. His father is severely afflicted with alcoholism. When rarely sober, he is loving and sweet, when under the influence, he's mean, bitter, irrational and abusive. Martin's mother is run ragged trying to keep the family together financially as she maintains a home care service in their cramped quarters.
When Martin is offered the opportunity to join a rich friend at a vacation resort where he'll be offered a terrific summer job, he jumps at the chance (with his mother's blessing) to get out of his stifling situation, but also earn money to help his family.
Once ensconced at the vacation hideaway, things aren't quite as idyllic as his rich friend suggests they will be. His pal abandons him for his affluent friends, he finds he's not staying in richie-rich's palatial family digs, but in the resort's squalid staff quarters (where he's forced to room with a head-banger drunk) and just when things look up (he actually enjoys his job and meets a beautiful young girl, deftly played by Josefin Ljungman, who likes him as much as he likes her), he commits an error in judgement and gets fired.
As luck would have it, his error in judgement as well as his willingness to own up to it, catch's the eye of the person who fires him, the resort's alternately jovial and cruel manager Gösta (a madly inspired naughty, moustachioed cherub in the form of Peter Dalle), who takes the lad under his wing and slowly introduces him to his secret world of criminal activity.
Money, adventure, danger and romance soon follow, but not without paying a price.
What I loved most about Holmes's film is the careful manner in which he compares and contrasts the lives of the "haves" and "have-nots" - especially in terms of what they both need to do in order to maintain a living. The "have-nots" do all the dirty work, but the "haves" are even dirtier - they just hide it a whole lot better.
This is something that will certainly strike a chord with movie-goers and I, for one, will be shocked if this film isn't eventually remade by Hollywood for the English-speaking marketplace.
Even if it is, I trust it will hardly be better than what Hannes Holmes has rendered - a fun and original entertainment!