Monday, October 13, 2008

Rural Route: Bazo

The Sami—don’t call them Laplanders—are well assimilated in Northern Europe, but remain stereotyped for their traditional reindeer-herding livelihood. It turns out they also have an unexpected talent for revenge in Bázo, a Norwegian production largely set in Sweden, screening Wednesday at Scandinavia House, in conjunction with the Rural Route Film Festival.

Bázo is a Sami expression for the mentally slow. It is not exactly an affectionate nickname, but Emil is stuck with it. Even his brother Kenneth uses it, but he is not much of a brother, only occasionally visiting Emil and their father to show off his new Mercedes and girlfriend, pretty much in that order. Still, when Kenneth dies under mysterious circumstances, the not as dumb as he looks Emil sets out to do right by his brother. Dismissed as borderline retarded, Emil may have little formal schooling, but he fully understands concepts like honor and compassion.

Travelling down to the big city, Emil discovers some unsavory underworld characters have claimed much of his brother’s property. He is able to take possession of the Mercedes, a shotgun, and Kevin, the nephew Emil never knew he had. At least, the shotgun and the car will come in handy.

Emil is not the hulking tough guy his size and reticence might suggest. Frankly, he just takes one beating after another. Though not a fighter, he might just make a decent surrogate father, if he is allowed to keep Kevin, and is not killed by henchmen working for the mobbed-up councilman behind his brother’s death.

Bázo is not a revenge movie in the style of Get Carter. Strictly speaking, it is a character study of the shy Emil, played by Sverre Porsanger in a powerful but understated performance. Still, when the so-called “Bázo” starts taking care of business, it is reasonably satisfying. More than just some entertaining payback, Bázo has some beautifully acted little moments. For instance, Ebba Joks makes a strong impression in the small role of Irene, a sympathetic waitress, who shelters the stranded Emil and Kevin one night. In a memorable scene, she and Emil drink beer while sitting in the dark, on her kitchen floor (beneath the windows), as her abusive ex-husband pounds on the front-door screaming threats at her. It representative of what the film is about: under-dogs living a twilight existence.

Directed with more sensitivity than flash by Lars-Göran Pettersson, Bázo still makes effective use of its desolate Northern Swedish locales. It is definitely a rural film, and probably the best of the Rural Route’s series at Scandinavia House. It screens this Wednesday at 6:30.