Review: The bothersome man

Scandinavian sci-fi films often tend to be, or have to be, metaphorically made because the budgets are so low that they can’t afford all the hardware, elaborate sets and special effects that typical American movies have. But more often than not this turns out to the movie’s advantage, such as with The bothersome man.

The bothersome man (original title; Den brysomme mannen) is about Andreas, an ordinary man who suddenly finds himself alone in a remote desert-like environment. A man appears and welcomes him, then drives him to a city where everything seems to be in order. Not knowing where he is and what he’s doing there, Andreas needs not to fear because everything is arranged for him; he is given a good job with friendly colleagues, and he is given a place to live. He soon falls in love with a beautiful woman, and life seem to be going well. However, there are some details that bothers him; why doesn’t food and drinks taste anything? Why is everyone dressed like business professionals in suits, and why are there no children around? Why is interior decoration and dinner parties the only subjects anyone is interrested in, including his wife? And why is everything so… grey?

That is the universe in which The bothersome man takes place. We don’t quite know if it’s Andreas’ imagination, life after death, a dream or a nightmare. That’s for you, the viewer to discuss and decide, and it is one of the things that makes this movie interesting. It poses questions about what reality is – is the polished facade that many of us hides behind really reality? – through the use of strong visuals, characters with specific purposes, and the contrastic depth of Andreas, who seems and feels so misplaced. Unlike other “dreamy” movies, The bothersome man isn’t dreamy as such; it is reality based, but the reality in the film is so quirky and stylized that if you notice the details, you’re bound to be scared. It seems like a perfect world, but you don’t want to live in it! Andreas’ misery doesn’t stop at picture-perfect though; the sequence where he becomes a gory mess of blood and guts is great fun for gorehounds and a welcome break in the otherwise smooth and sharp universe.

Having mentioned the Bothersome man universe a few times; it needs elaborating, as it’s so important to the film. The cinematic idea was to create a very different type of aesthetics than other Norwegian movies, and few Norwegian movies have managed to create such a coherent and relevant visual universe as this film. Many films have a “look and feel” that is supposed to make them appear updated and fresh, but with The bothersome man the visuals and background details were important to the story. I get annoyed when movies use colour saturation and soft filters just to create a special kind of feeling that isn’t warranted. In The bothersome man the look and appearance is half the story, which is something many big-budget foreign movies often fails to accomplish. I guess the best comparison can be some of Roy Anderson’s films, although this film isn’t as unrealisticly grey as some of his work. For once, a Nordic film where the chosen surrealism is not only important, but also cleverly executed, as well as actually working according to intention!

However, the look of the film isn’t going to save it completely, if the story and characters are not up to standards. And they certainly are. The bothersome man is a high-concept movie that in a symbolic and exaggerated way theorizes our materialistic times without becoming too arty about it. That’s also a reason why it is a kind of sci-fi film, or futuristic fantasy, in the sense that it projects how our own world will become if we continue down our current path. Or maybe it tries to tell us that we’re already there? All good sci-fi films are really about today.

One of the best Scandinavian films of 2006 was The bothersome man but it will remain an interestic cinematic exercise for many years.

Directed by Jens Lien.

Norway, 2006.

Rated 8 of 10.