Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Charmer—What’s it All About, Esmail?

Esmail is like the Alfie of the refugee era, except he is desperate to get married. His hopes of remaining in Denmark depend entirely on the matrimony he pursues with mercenary determination. Yet, much like the Cockney chauffeur, Esmail develops feelings at a rather inopportune time in Milad Alami’s The Charmer (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday at Film Forum.

By day, Esmail works as a mover, when he’s lucky. By night, he haunts a hipster wine bar, hoping to seduce and marry a Danish woman. He was just too clingy for his most recent lover, whereas the woman before her inconveniently committed suicide. Yet, he keeps working scene, because he is desperate to avoid deportation back to Iran.

Esmail pursues very Scandinavian Danish women, because he assumes they will be more susceptible to his charms, whereas a Persian-Dane like Sara would immediately suspect his motives. Of course, she is totally on to him, yet she still starts to fall for him, as their paths cross repeatedly. That should be good news, but it forces Esmail to really take a hard look at his choices and baggage.

You could say it is surprising how surprising The Charmer is, because its revelations seem obvious in retrospect, but its two leads keep us riveted (and blinkered) in their characters’ present tense. Ardalan Esmaili is all kinds of intense as his near-namesake, projecting a brooding vibe of danger and the aura of a man oppressed by his own secrets. However, the film’s real game-changing discovery is Danish-Persian vocalist Soho Rezanejad, in her feature debut. As Sara, she is cynical, sensitive, and seductive, all at the same time. Their scenes together crackle and burn.

Sometimes, the word “thriller” has been applied to The Charmer, but it is usually followed by several qualifiers. Strictly speaking, there are not many legit genre elements in Alami’s screenplay, co-written with Ingeborg Topsøe. Yet, there is definitely quite a bit of lying and betrayal going on.

Is the comparison to Alfie overblown? Maybe, but both films certainly depict how deliberate emotional detachment leads to desperate alienation. Regardless, Esmail is a deeply tragic and terribly sad figure. The screen presence of Esmaili and Rezanejad also cannot be denied. Recommended for mature viewers, The Charmer opens this Wednesday (12/5) at Film Forum.