Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Upon reading Avalon’s end credits, you’re likely to feel surprise at seeing writer-director Axel Petersén’s name among the actors list. Attributed to the brief appearance of two twins late in the film, Petersén looks much younger than his 1979 birthdate would suggest. What is less surprising is that Avalon is Petersén’s debut feature, an all-surface drama-cum-thriller not without its moments but too convinced of its own impressionistic chic to be dramatic or indeed thrilling. Aspiring to character-study status, the film evades at almost every turn the more compelling moments of its bare-bones plot. It’s a shame.

60 year old Janne (Johannes Brost) teams up with his Lady Macbeth-like sister Jackie (Léonore Ekstrand) and long-time pal Klas (Peter Carlberg) to embark upon a new business venture: in the first scene, he gives his new partners and his daughter and son-in-law of the nightclub he is planning to open in the small coastal town of Båstad, Sweden. When he inadvertently kills an itinerant labourer working for Klas, Janne gets dragged into a dangerous debt. As a local annual tennis tournament begins and the opening of the new nightclub nears, anxieties rise.

Drifting restlessly from scene to scene – or fragment to fragment – Avalon tells us from its outset that it is to be one of those over-the-shoulder portraits whose chief aspirations are claustrophobia, tension and ambiguity. The trouble is, the stubbornness with which Petersén and cinematographer Måns Månsson focus their camera upon Janne – even when he’s conversing with others – draws attention to the fussy approach. Paradoxically, the closer a director gets to a character in imagistic terms, the more non-committal the work seems.

Without a convincing enough panorama of the social milieu in which Janne operates, what are we meant to make of his internal conflicts? As the protagonist, Brost has little to work with, but his innately compelling face holds our attention whenever Petersén shows us it. Elsewhere, a brief sequence in which Janne drifts into a temporary respite beneath the glitter balls of his discotheque, to the sound of the Roxy Music track from which the film takes its title, stands out as an unexpectedly gripping flourish.

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2013
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When a nightclub owner accidentally kills a labourer, he finds himself with a dangerous debt.
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Director: Axel Petersén

Writer: Axel Petersén

Starring: Johannes Brost, Peter Carlberg, Léonore Ekstrand

Year: 2011

Runtime: 79 minutes

Country: Sweden


BIFF 2012

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