The winner of this year’s Dragon Award for Best Nordic film, Amateurs is a delightful and bubbly exploration of a small-town community spirit in the face of dying industry. Directed by Gabriela Pichler, who explored industrial work life in 2012’s Eat Sleep Die, now sets her eyes on what makes a small region with not much to offer unique.
Amateurs is set in the fictional region of Lafors, an area of Sweden famous for producing leather and not much else. When the film begins, we quickly learn that the region is struggling, and the council are looking for new ways to boost the economy. As luck would have it, a German discount megastore is looking to open a shop somewhere in Sweden, and they are looking for applicants. The council decides to make ‘one of those typical council videos’ in order to show off Lafors, but due to lack of money, they decide to allow the students of a local school to come up with their own video. That’s when we get to know the two lead female characters, played by Zahraa Aldoujaili and Yara Aliadotter, who love sticking their mobile phone cameras in people’s faces and interviewing them, or just recording themselves as they ride a motorbike around the fields. The two teens take it upon themselves to make a video showing how wonderful Lafors is, and the film ends up having a much bigger message and importance than the girls had planned.
Considering that the film is about making a film, it’s unsurprising that many of the scenes appear as though it’s the two girls filming. This is very effective, though, with the shaky and awkward shots providing a real authenticity to the overall story. It also allows us to get to know our leading ladies, explore their close relationship, and come to understand why they love living in Lafors so much. However, Amateurs isn’t just a film about friendship, it’s a film that identifies with the problems facing many rural towns around the world; with old-fashioned industries dying down, these once booming regions have to look for ways to innovate themselves, a famous example being Detroit with the deteriorated automobile industry and the recent influx of tech companies into the city. Some of the interviews the two teenagers shoot highlight this; one local says he is looking forward to being able to save some money when the discount shop opens, and another says that it’ll drive business away from his store. Mega-chain stores are a complex addition to any community, and Amateurs accurately shows both sides to the conversation.
Overall, Amateurs is an excellent take on a unique subject, and Pichler’s strength as a director shines through the film; she is indeed one of the most exciting directors currently in Sweden. But despite its charming message, Amateurs does struggle to fill its 100-minute time slot. The film opens with a loud, energetic premise that hypes you up for an exciting film, but by about halfway through the film is struggling to keep the plot moving. It happens even though Aldoujaili provides the much-needed energy in the film, and Pichler knows how to build interesting characters. Still, there isn’t just enough depth to the overall plot to fill screen-time, and Pichler does try to incorporate elements of ethnicity, immigration and family into subplots, but they fall flat. Having said that, it is not entirely surprising that the film won the 1,000,000 SEK prize in Gothenburg. However, Amateurs feels more like a film for the locals rather than an international audience.
This review is featured in the March 2018 issue of Cinema Scandinavia.
- Directed by Gabriela Pichler
- Produced by Anna-Maria Kantarius for Film i Väst
- Written by Jonas Hassen Khemiri & Gabriela Pichler
- Starring Zahraa Aldoujaili, Yara Aliadotter, Fredrik Dahl