Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"A consciously downbeat film in which there can never be any guarantee of salvation."

What is it about VHS that makes some people remain loyal to it after all these years? It's the most physical form of film that members of the public come into contact with. Its similarity in size and shape to a book gives it a certain authority. Like books, old VHS tapes become palimpsests, fuzzy lines on the screen their equivalent f paragraphs underlined with hasty pencil strokes. And for horror fans - doubtless including some of those who enjoyed this film at Frightfest 2018 - it's home to a considerable number of films that are otherwise lost, never having made it onto subsequent formats. Boxes of discarded DVDs can hold surprising treasures.

Treasure hunting like this is an obsession for Ennio (Stefan Sauk, playing a character based on a real life resident of Gothenburg), who has packed his basement with old tapes. His focus on these and his dream of opening a video shop again someday are contributory factors in the breakdown of his relationship, and once he finds himself alone, the tapes become his whole world. Here the film splits in two, with separate plot strands neither of which can easily be relegated to subplot status exploring Ennio's attempts to get back in control of his life. One involves the discovery of a rare tape which a mysterious collector called Faceless offers to buy for a sum that could clear his debts. The other involves a chance meeting with a woman whose life s as messed up as his is, and who shares a dependency on drink and nostalgia - characteristics that other people might consider unwanted baggage, but that give the two of them the opportunity to embark on a relationship.

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This is Simone (Lena Nilsson), a woman anxious to recover the things she loved about life after devoting many years to raising her daughter, but struggling to cope with the fact her daughter doesn't want to be around her, and facing bullying at work. Her obvious need for help has the effect of plunging her further into isolation, something no amount of crimped hair and pink lipstick can fix. To Ennio she's a dream come true, but both are fragile and struggle to balance their addictions and obsessions with the need to care for one another. There's a lot of heart in this storyline, and dramatically it's by far the strongest part of the film.

The other story, whose reality we are at times invited to question as Ennio slips in and out of what may be a delusional state, involves the disappearance of the rare tape and his desperate attempts to work out who could have stolen it. When confronted by gangsters in the course of his search, forced to deal with a different kind of horror from that on most of his tapes, he seems to switch register, with director Kristian A Söderström's camerawork shifting gears so that we see Ennio moving like a character from a film, utilising instincts his viewing has taught him. These scenes sit at odds with the realist style of the rest of the film but, whether we perceive them as reality or fantasy, have a profound affect on Ennio's character.

A consciously downbeat film in which there can never be any guarantee of salvation, Videoman is a touching portrait of two people coping with the stresses life throws at them by finding joy in little things and in each other.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2018
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An obsessive video collector finds a tape that could solve all his money problems, only to find himself in desperate straits when it disappears.

Director: Kristian A Söderström

Writer: Kristian A Söderström

Starring: Stefan Sauk, Lena Nilsson, Morgan Alling

Year: 2018

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Sweden


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