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by Eric Kohn
May 20, 2010 10:26 AM
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CANNES REVIEW | Bonnie and Clyde on Drums: The Swedish Musical Comedy "Sound of Noise"

An image from Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne's "Sound of Noise."

Light on story but heavy on ingenuity, the Swedish musical comedy "Sound of Noise" portrays musicians as the ultimate outlaws. In truth, the movie only incidentally relates to the musical genre, since everything onscreen is ostensibly diegetic - but magically so. An account of several villainous drummers intent on wreaking havoc across an entire city by turning it into their own instrument, its magnificent premise suggests a feature-length version of "Stomp" forced into the structure of a classic detective yarn.

Overstylized attempts to turn musicians into thrilling action characters generally have mixed results - think "Six String Samura" or Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" sequels - and "Sound of Noise" is not impervious to this shaky track record. The main character, an investigator named Amadeus (Bengt Nilsson), has a thin set of motives guiding his quest. He suffers from the misfortune of being born tone deaf in a family of musicians, which turns his intention of tracking down the criminal performance artists into a personal vendetta. Following closely on the heels of each decimated location where their illegal acts take place, he becomes drawn to the craft of their process and must learn to confront his childhood fears, and so on.

Fortunately, directors Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne make the surrealist musical set pieces into the real stars. Expanding on their 2001 short, "Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers," the filmmakers work with drumming expert Magnus Börjeson - also a lead actor in the movie - to choreograph a wildly original soundtrack. The two main schemers (Börjeson and actress Sanna Persson), an anarchic couple first seen speeding down the highway while one of them bangs away at a drum set in the back, come across like the Bonnie and Clyde of underground rock: They're exclusively driven by the sheer desire to dismantle the harmony of the world with their jagged creative output.

The group's master plan, entitled "Music for One City and Six Drummers," includes a wide variety of organic and urban props. Each movement provides another Rube Goldberg-esque scheme to create music from an unlikely source. Some of the highlights: They break into a hospital, slapping a patient's stomach and using the beeps of his respirator to develop a catchy techno track; they methodically shed money during an unorthodox bank hold-up ("Nobody move! This is a gig!"); and they stealthily commandeer a group of construction trucks for their toe-tapping purposes. Each scene erupts with innovation at once hilarious and fascinating to watch.

One clever but inexplicable twist finds Amadeus mysteriously losing his ability to hear the noise of anything that the musicians play, but the movie wisely sticks to the schemers more than the officer on their trail. The drummers, appropriately depicted as outcasts gone bad, each get a mini-backstory. The funniest of belongs to a disgruntled timpani player whose talents go to waste when buried in an orchestra. His latest gig naturally liberates his anger, as it does for his cohorts.

Despite its constant slapstick demeanor, "Sound of Noise" offers a fairly reasonable snapshot of the punkish anger that often drives experimental music. Loaded with ingeniously devised beats, it hammers out a unique rhythm deserved of many repeat performances.

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