House Logo
Explore categories +

Film Comment Selects 2013: Call Girl

Comments Comments (0)

Film Comment Selects 2013: <em>Call Girl</em>

A lugubrious, elongated study of forced prostitution and political lechery, Mikael Marcimain’s Call Girl loosely depicts the events that led to Sweden’s so-called Geijer scandal and the arrest of brothel madam Doris Hopp in the 1970s. Told largely from the point of view of a fictional 14-year-old foster child turned escort, Iris (Sofia Karemyr), the film moves as a suitably seedy, familiarly plotted procedural that ambitiously encompasses Iris’s tutelage by Dagmar Glans (Pernilla August), a fictional variation on Hopp, the investigation into the prostitution by vice detective John Sandberg (Simon J. Berger), and the cover-up, administered by a shadowy bureaucrat played by David Dencik.

Dencik, of course, is most well known for his outstanding performance as Toby Esterhase in Tomas Alfredson’s sensational reimagining of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Call Girl coincidentally shares that film’s atmosphere of engulfing dread. Stylistically, Marcimain keeps things seductively kinetic with plenty of frame-within-frames and a few expertly timed zooms and tracking shots, and the overall design of the film recalls a sleazy, decisively ’70s nostalgia. Shot on 35mm, the very look of the film exudes a dulled luridness, mirroring the film’s view of the perverse indulgences of politicians as being a maintained, boring business.

Aesthetically, Call Girl is consistently engaging and fluid, but never particularly innovative or surprising, and the narrative is hardly different in its unremarkable competence. Marcimain, working from Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten’s script, places Iris and her cousin, Sonja (Josefin Asplund), at the center of the drama, but tone, atmosphere, and the sheer breadth of the narrative suffocate the characters, making them little more than used and abused victims of Dagmar and her beefy associate, Glenn (Sven Nordin). In fact, even Dagmar and Glenn hardly register underneath the veil of Marcimain’s moody throwback stylization, and arguably only Berger’s Sandberg fully emerges as a realized character, perhaps inevitably, as he’s the only person who’s invariably fighting against the conspiracy.

At 140 minutes, Call Girl is oddly abrupt and languid in its storytelling, a truth made doubly tragic considering the fact that the film begins with some impactful thematic curiosities. At one point early on, Dencik’s quiet manipulator arrives at his office as another meeting is being held, wherein officials are reconsidering the parameters of sexual crimes and their punishments. Not surprisingly, the updated parameters are more forgiving of men, and here, the film makes a clear delineation between the male-dominated world of politics and the world of prostitution that depends on women and disputably puts them in a seat of power. It’s a promising idea, but Marcimain connects more with the defeatism of reality and history, and his film becomes yet another involving yet uninspired treatise on the inherent evils of government. Over three decades and endless reformations after the elusive events, Call Girl is neither outraged nor bitterly comical, content enough to both reiterate the corruptive nature of power and stew in its own mundane hopelessness.

Film Comment Selects runs from February 18—28.