The Bothersome Man Review
Apparently Per Schreiner first wrote The Bothersome Man as a radio play, and the big screen adaptation of the award winning play comes a couple of years after the original production. It is the second feature film directed by Jens Lien and the film combines a strong sense of modern fable and absurdism. If you could imagine something as high concept as Groundhog Day reimagined by Charlie Kaufman, then you would be getting close to the kind of extraordinary film it is. Part urban nightmare and part Kafkaesque adventure, The Bothersome Man is imaginative, striking and puzzling, and probably one of the more original films you'll see.
We join Andreas on a subway platform as the tube trains come and go, and he watches a couple swapping spit in disturbingly mechanical kissing. The snog goes on and on, and eventually Andreas jumps under a passing train. Rather than be the end, we find ourselves with a bearded Andreas as the only passenger on a bus to nowhere as he is dumped by a deserted service station. There he is met by a man who takes him to his new home and tells him about his new job. He cleans up and sleeps and goes to work the next day in the impossibly friendly firm that employs him. He finds the work and environment alienating and meets a similarly adrift man at a sterile nightclub. Out of boredom he cuts his finger off using the office guillotine and the "cleaners" come and take him away. They return him home with his re-attached digit and he changes his ways by becoming sociable and a relationship begins with the interior design obsessed Anne. The sex is automatic and she soon becomes soulless to him, so he starts an affair with good time girl Inga. He decides to leave Anne but Inga will only agree to commit to him and forsake her other men as they could afford a bigger apartment together. He finds himself back at the platform and falling towards the train. It hits him, then another does and then another still. But he doesn't die and again the cleaners return him to his life. Will Andreas ever be happy with this life and conform like the others?
On one level, this is one of those singular men against the system stories, but looked at differently Andreas' refusal to fit in to this modern world of nice job, nice colleagues and nice things is a feeling that many people will recognise. When he meets the man in the nightclub toilet, he hears that nothing tastes of anything anymore - "chocolate, pussy...they all have no taste", and in this new life there are no children and no conversations about meaning or feelings. All the people around him are happy to work, have emotionless sex and consume, but Andreas wants more. Despite the clean city, the plentiful money and the ready friends, people are killing themselves all over. When Andreas finds the sounds of real people and real music, along with real smells and tastes, the world he lives in is threatened and he is expelled.
The Bothersome Man is an articulate satire on the world of normality, the everyday and the materialist. Andreas' search for truth and experience shames the people around him who refuse to see underneath the veneer of their lives or to connect to emotions other than necessary ones. This dynamic of ignoring the obvious is often rather funny as when Andreas, looking like he has been hit by four trains - he has, is greeted by his unaffected partner Anne with the news that they could go go-karting at the weekend rather than natural concern or curiosity at what had happened. This sense of complete disconnection is created brilliantly throughout with Andreas circled by a felicitous boss who sacks him for expressing his feelings, sex partners who just lie there and the omnipresent grey suited cleaners who sort him out in his small rebellions whilst cleaning the guts of the latest suicides from the local pavements.
A thoroughly uneasy atmosphere persists in the film courtesy of some excellent sound design and effects, and the film is realised superbly as a dystopian absurdist satire. The cast around Trond Fausa Aurvaag are wonderfully Stepford like in their unconcern, and he is a desperate man searching for something more. The Bothersome Man will appeal to those who appreciate jet black humour, or those who share the same resentment with the material world as its protagonist. A tremendous, funny, and poetic film.
This is a single layer barebones release with one static menu offering play and scene options. The visual presentation is strong with an anamorphic transfer at the original aspect ratio, and the image is sharp and detailed throughout. The edges seem a little over emphasised to my eye but this is the only criticism I can make of the transfer as the contrast levels are excellent and the overall presentation allows for the rather drab world of the movie whilst capturing the rare shafts of colour and light that ironically appear. The major problem with the presentation is the choice to used bright white burnt-in subs which are host to a number of mistypes and seem quite large for their purpose.
The audio comes in a strong stereo track which processes well into surround giving good depth to the train tunnel sequences and the finale in the coach boot. The track has strong and responsive bass, clarity of dialogue and lacks distortion or source problems. It is a surprise that a 5.1 track is not provided with such a modern and atmospheric film because as good as the stereo track is this film has the potential to immerse you in the experience of watching and stereo seems a little flat for that purpose.
No extras, not a dickie bird.
A remarkable movie and an acceptable treatment that could have been even better with an investment in optional subs and a surround track. Definitely one of the films to see before 2007 goes the way of all flesh.
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