Popular Music

Popular Music


Reviewed by: George Williamson

Growing up in Pajala isn't much fun for Matti and Niila. Between the puritanical community, abusive parents, a kiddy-fiddling peddler and a janitor who uses his shoes to sedate children who muck around, it's awful. In fact, it looks pretty bleak for them until Grandma's funeral where Niila's American cousins introduce them to The Beatles. From that day on they decide upon their destiny: to become rock'n'roll stars!

Reza Bagher's adaptation of Mikael Niemi's Popularmusik Fran Vittula (Rock Music In Vittula) follows two local boys as they grow up in the backwoods of Sweden, close to the Finnish border, and rebel against the dour world of their parents by forming a band, playing the latest invention of the devil - rock and roll.

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The film wanders back and forth between comical and often touching portrayals of life in Matti's family to periods of bitter dispute, as Niila's brutal father administers another beating for a minor infraction of an unwritten rule. Once the boys enter their teens, the film focuses more closely on the onset of puberty and the reasons that they joined a band - music or girls?

The nostalgic haze of fuzzily remembered childhood slowly and perceptibly subsides into a sterner adult world as the film progresses, although punctuated with sections of bizarre surreality, which regains an ethereal colourfulness to excellent effect. Some of the dialogue - especially father to son explanation of the onset of puberty and the four family secrets - is hilarious and the story is laden with heavy drinking, sexual experimentation and the usual acts of surly teen rebellion.

It has brilliant moments, such as a surreal sequence where Niila's grandmother returns from the dead to fight them in a burning forest and the family wedding which turns into a vicious Swedes vs. Finns drinking competition - but as a whole the film feels fractured, with bizarre transitions and editing, which often leave you wondering quite what's going on. Although this echoes the plot's oscillation between bleak and comic elements, which could be seen as social incongruencies that should be stylistically highlighted by radical shifts in pitch, it doesn't quite work.

Popular Music echoes Bergman's Wild Strawberries, as the narrator looks back fondly on his youth, and there are several large family gatherings that are visually reminiscent of Emir Kusturica's Black Cat, White Cat, but the confusing editing robs it of so much of its charm and, in the end, becomes an entertaining, yet fairly ordinary, coming-of-age tale.

Reviewed on: 14 Aug 2005
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Popular Music packshot
In the Swedish backwoods rock-and-roll becomes act of rebellion for pubescent teenagers.

Director: Reza Bagher

Writer: Reza Bagher, based on the book by Mikael Niemi

Starring: Niklas Ulfvarson, Max Enderfors, Tommy Vallikari, Andreas Af Enehjelm, Bjorn Kjellman, Jarmo Makinen, Kati Outinen, Tarja-Tuulikki Tarsala, Goran Forsmark, Lisa Lindgren, Sten Ljunggren

Year: 2004

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Sweden/Finland


EIFF 2005

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If you like this, try:

Black Cat, White Cat