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TIFF11: Bleak and Intriguing, “Avalon” Experiments with Our Sympathies

TIFF11: Bleak and Intriguing, "Avalon" Experiments with Our Sympathies

At some point the party has to stop. Few aphorisms are as cinematic. Everyone from drug dealers to Wall St tycoons have gotten their inevitable comeuppance on screen, usually after an exorbitantly dramatic climax involving heaps of cocaine and fast-paced music. After that, there’s no more story to tell. Yet what if the fall from glory happens slowly and organically, as an era closes and its heroes are left adrift yet unbroken? “Avalon” tells that story, or perhaps more properly its epilogue.

Janne is a party organizer, who obviously wishes it were still the 1980s. His recently divorced sister Jackie accompanies him on his quest to revitalize his career, keeping things interesting with her acidic sensibilities. She’s a bit like Leila of “The Good Son” but without the self-control, depth, or nuance. All of their efforts go into the opening of a new club, Avalon, which for a short time even seems to contain some real hope of success. Yet it’s not long before the inevitable hiccup occurs, still relatively early in the film, which forces the Janne to confront some unfortunately bitter realities.

What makes “Avalon” notable amongst other stories of hubris, glamour and failure is its light disgust and blunt revulsion for its characters. Director Axel Petersén has styled this film in such a distant and cold manner that you can’t help but feel more like a horrified observer than an involved participant. The cinematography avoids anything showy, choosing to seek its terribly effective affect with stern restraint. Much of “Avalon” is practically silent, with ambient sounds removed for an entirely bare and strikingly minimalist aural palette. Petersén goes out of his way to make sure we feel just how washed up his has-been partiers are.

There are brief moments in which Janne’s dreams are explored, rendered in a slightly more compassionate and stylish milieu. The lights dim and the room spins under a disco ball, the blue personality of the empty nightclub revolving around this aging promoter’s dappled and hopeful visage. Yet it does not last. None of the sparse hints of musical optimism are given more than a scarce few moments to shine a light on Janne’s bright past in the face of his untenable present and bleak future. “Avalon” is unforgiving, a short experiment in an austere poetry that no fan of the bleaker side of Scandinavian cinema should miss.

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