There’s no doubt there’s more than a small element of truth in Maria Blom’s debut film Masjävlar. Its depiction of smalltown life with its eccentric characters and close-knit community contrasted with big city lifestyles is recognisably the same as has been depicted in many other films. But therein lies the problem with Masjävlar - the names might be different, and it may be closer to home for its target audience to recognise local characteristics and humour, but essentially, the film follows a well-trodden path without having anything original of its own to add.
Mia Sundin (Sofia Helin) has been away from her hometown Dalecarlia for almost 15 years. A computer analyst in Stockholm, she has left the people and the behaviour of her backwater hometown long behind, very rarely even making visits to the folks back home. However, she makes the effort to come back for her father’s 70th birthday and is soon reacquainted with her quirky family and the eccentric inhabitants of a small town where everyone knows everyone and knows everything that goes on. The youngest daughter, Mia has always had opportunities for education and travel that were denied to her sisters Eivor (Kajsa Ernst) and Gunilla (Ann Petrén), and her leaving her family behind to go and live in the big city hasn’t gone down well with everyone. So when her parents offer Mia a small plot of land near the lake to build herself a summer home it certainly ruffles a few feathers, particularly when Mia doesn’t even want to live there.
The canvas that Masjävlar sets out for itself to work within – smalltown versus big city lifestyles - is a fairly broad one, and the characters of Dalecarlia are correspondingly broadly defined eccentrics with quirky characteristics – and none of them are particularly agreeable people either. Their lives and ambitions are built around the family for women, marrying the first man you meet and settling down for the rest of your life. For men there is only so much mileage in drinking, womanising, hunting and driving your snowmobile – but their prospects are just as limited as the women. The social issues this gives rise to are obvious – alcoholism (the brewing of moonshine liquor is widespread), depression, suicide and divorce, keeping things locked up within and never seeing beyond your own backdoor. Contrasted with smalltown life, Mia’s apparently idyllic life as a well-paid young professional living in the big-city is not as wonderful as it appears. She appears to have no real friends, gets drunk with colleagues from work regularly and there is no time for love or romance in her busy schedule.
This is all familiar material, but it can be forged into something distinctive, as in Aku Louhimies’ Finnish film Frozen Land - a far more accomplished and ambitious film than Masjävlar. Maria Blom’s personal angle on this subject unfortunately is another that is mired in formulaic cliché – the female touch. As well as unimaginatively wading through the stock situations and stereotypical characters of the culture clash film, Blom brings in some rather dull and predictable family situations, divorce, relationship problems, unplanned pregnancies, finding oneself in alternative lifestyles (Gunilla has been revitalised sexually and in her outlook on life by a visit late in her life to exotic Bali) and sisterly rivalry.
The combined might of all these “issues” – none of them dealt with even an ounce of real humour, never mind depth or originality – inevitably culminates in everyone reaching a point of crisis. The characters however are so disagreeable – not one of them displaying any admirable attributes whatsoever – and the situation is so contrived and emotionally manipulative that even the tragic aspect of the film feels false and unconvincing.
Masjävlar is released in the UK by Drakes Avenue. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.
As you might expect now from Drakes Avenue or ICA Projects releases, the film is transferred to DVD with the minimum of attention. Although in the correct aspect ratio and apparently progressive, the transfer is not anamorphically enhanced. The image is rather soft, there is some grain evident and flickering macroblocking artefacts are evident throughout. The picture quality is fair, with little in the way of marks or scratches, but is quite basic. Colours are good and the tone is fine, but neither are particularly glowing. The quality can best be described as basic – the bare minimum required to be acceptable.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is clear and relatively strong, conveying dialogue and the folk music arrangements of the score quite well. There are no surround options and certainly no DTS mix – although the credits indicate that there was one for the theatrical release – but none is really required for the limited demands of the film.
English subtitles are included in a white font, but are fixed on the transfer. They are overlarge with a solid black border and poorly positioned so that they completely block out a portion of the lower left of the screen when they stretch to two lines (see screenshot sample above). Reflecting the sloppy nature of the rest of the transfer, they haven’t been properly proofed either and contain a few minor spelling flaws – “tou” for “you”, “culd” for “could” and “pityful” for “pitiful”. As this review is done from a checkdisc, hopefully this may have been corrected for the retail release, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The only feature on the disc is the original Theatrical Trailer (1:19) for the film. Bizarrely, this is in anamorphic widescreen.
There’s not a great deal to recommend about Masjävlar - the culture clash issues it deals with have been done much better elsewhere and with a greater sense of subtlety, humour and characterisation, while the social and female relationship issues it deals with are superficially dealt with. Add to this a typical couldn’t-care-less barebones transfer from Drakes Avenue and you wonder why they bothered releasing this at all.