A couple of nights ago, quite late, I came across some people camped out in sleeping bags in front of the Berlinale's public ticket counter. When I asked them what they were in line for, they said, "Kraftidioten." Now I know why: a terrifically smart and funny Norwegian thriller starring Stellan Skarsgard and Bruno Ganz, "Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance)" has great appeal across borders. (Norwegian trailer below.)
Set in a small town where Skarsgard's Nils Dickman is the snow-plow man, the film begins with some beautiful winter scenery as Dickman's plow smashes through it, throwing snow in huge, cascading arcs. Soon thereafter, the English title – "In Order Of Disappearance" -- appears, letting us know that Bergman is not in the hood. Throughout, whenever someone meets an end, they get their own title card with their name beneath a cross. Following an ordered beginning, with Dickman winning a man-of-the-year award while his baggage-handler son unloads a plane at the local airport, things go quickly and mysteriously awry, setting into motion a dark tale of revenge- and drug-world killings -- and layer upon layer of filial love replaced with pain.
The area drug business has been carved up between two competing drug cartels, a Norwegian one headed by Greven (Pal Sverre Hagen) and a Serbian faction led by a don known as Papa (Bruno Ganz). When Greven's men start to disappear, he naturally suspects the Serbs, and decides upon revenge – unwisely, in more ways than one. Despite its dark underpinnings, director Hans Petter Moland, screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson and crew have a lot of fun with all of this, from the dialogue to the production design. One delightful scene features two of the Serbian henchmen discussing the absurdly civilized merits of Norwegian prisons, and playful Scandinavian commentary abounds.
"Kraftidioten" roughly translates as power idiots, but at the film's center is Skarsgard's steady, kind, brutal everyman. Along with his performance in Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac," the long version of which premiered here on Sunday, this fine Swedish actor has my early vote for the 64th Berlinale's MVP award (which doesn't exist but should). Ganz is Ganz, here no less a powerful figure for his lack of dialogue -- just looking at the guy, or being looked at by him, is enough to cause trembling of one sort or another. The reedy, pony-tailed Hagen, meanwhile, makes for a pleasingly loathsome Greven.
If the film's end is a tad too Tarantino, and early Tarantino at that, Moland can be forgiven; the director, who studied at Emerson College and has been directing for 20 years, has fashioned a clever, stylish and satisfying entertainment.