Saturday, May 30, 2020

BFF ’20: Snaeland

Small Icelandic towns are a good place to keep secrets, because people do not talk much there. At least, they are pretty taciturn in this coastal village, as well as the one in the recently released A White, White Day. Disgraced German reporter has come to cover a long-rumored bacchanal, but that story is fake news. However, he might have a line on an explosive tabloid story (that would ironically rehabilitate his reputation) in Lise Raven’s Snaeland, which screens (virtually) as part of the (online) 2020 Brooklyn Film Festival.

After indelicately asking multiple residents, Haas accepts the town really doesn’t hold an annual midnight sun festival of drunken debauchery for his readers to gawk at. He stumbles across something more potentially scandalous. A notorious French au pair, who was convicted of murdering her Wall Street employer-lover’s baby, is alive and well, living in town, after apparently faking her suicide. She is now known as Melanie Clement, a bee-keeper married to the local cab-driver.

Rather conveniently, Oskar Hrafnsson thinks his wife’s bee-keeping would make a good story, so Haas opportunistically plays along. Of course, Clement is suspicious of him, but she still tries to humor her husband. There is definitely a test of wits going on, but descriptions of Snaeland as a thriller or noir are overblown. Even “psychological drama” overstates matters. It is really a dark morality play and a scathing critique of media voyeurism.

In fact, Raven and co-screenwriter Deborah Goodwin sort of over-play that hand by equating with Haas with the village peeping tom, whom he catches red-handed, so to speak. The distastefulness of his behavior rather distracts from and undermines the analogy. Still, you certainly cannot accuse them of pulling their punches, which is also true of Clement’s infanticide crime (although she is said to have claimed it was an accident).

Frank Bruckner is convincingly sleazy and slimy, while still finding some deeply buried vestiges of humanity in Haas—albeit what resurfaces, definitely comes under the heading of a day late and a krona short. Emily Behr is necessarily remote and inscrutable as Clement, while Vikingur Kristjansson adds poignant pathos as poor, confused Hrafnsson.

Raven is a filmmaker with U.S. and German connections, but the vibe of Snaeland is about as frostily Scandinavian as a film can get. The dazzling midnight sun is effectively disorienting, but the slow-burning intensity could sometime use more heat. It is an interesting film, but it really doesn’t engage on an emotional level. For curious viewers, Snaeland screens virtually (for free) during this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival (5/29-6/7).