DVD Review: 'Call Girl'

★★★☆☆
Mikael Marcimain's Call Girl (2012) arrives on DVD this week following a fruitful festival run, the highlight of which was bagging the FIPRESCI award at last year's Toronto Film Festival. Inspired by the 1976 Geijer Affair, this is an earnest yet curiously benign period drama about underage solicitation at the utmost stratum of Swedish politics. Set at a time when sexual abuse scandals were front page news and the misogyny within influential institutions was finally being exposed, Call Girl pertinently echoes modern society's mounting fear about the corruption festering at the highest echelons of state influence.

The plot focuses on two teenage girls, Iris (Sofia Karemyr) and Sonja (Josefin Asplund), who both find themselves drawn into a world of sleaze and tabloid scandal. Spanning the five months which foreshadowed Sweden's most inflammatory general election, Marcimain's drama combines a series of lurid flashbacks to illicit parties and courtroom hearings with a taut police procedural, ensnaring his audience in the exploitative commerce of business woman Dagma (Pernilla August) who organised the bourgeois sex ring that serviced a mix of senior politicians and high-ranking police officers.

Call Girl boasts an admirable attention to period detail, with its meticulously fashioned costume and set designs adding a sense of authenticity and realism to a world where seedy strip clubs are merely a short limo ride away from the legislative and judicial institutions of the ruling classes. Marcimain presents us with a visually lyrical rendering, complete with menacing synthetic soundscapes and an oppressive mood of hopelessness that stems from the hypocrisy surrounding Sweden's perceived liberal government. Yet, whilst this calculated attention to detail undoubtedly enriches the film's conspiracy thriller template, Marcimain appears to have favoured mood and style over historical accuracy and meaty dialogue.

A mildly disorientating reliance on erratic jump cuts and narrative leaps leaves the impression that Call Girl's tale of political corruption and underage procurement would have profited from being told across an extended Scandi television mini-series - providing ample time to expand upon these scantily-clad characters and probe deeper into the mechanics of this furtive industry. Sadly, what we're left with is a handsome-looking theatrical drama that, whilst admirable for eschewing its implicit sensationalism, ultimately lacks narrative clarity and drive.

Marcimain somehow manages to suffocate the large majority of his characters in this slightly bloated tale of contemptible politicians, in turn doing little to engage his audience on anything other than a superficial level. An aesthetically striking, yet purely functional European drama, Call Girl offers yet another uninspiring and disheartening tale of corruption that, by comfortably festering in its own resigned sense of nihilism (rather than implying who or what are truly culpable), never quite becomes the compulsory viewing its sophisticated veneer suggests it to be.

Patrick Gamble

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