With Avalon, Axel Petersén joins filmmakers like Jesper Ganslandt and Ruben Östlund in what I think is sort of a Swedish new wave of cinema, set out to depict the beaten, broken and the damned. Petersén brings to the table an impeccable mix of the naturalistic and surreal, the sparse and the extravagant; the camera work is uneasy and restless, not too concerned about keeping the characters or events within the frame, which fits well into the theme of people in the (moral) outskirts of society, not fitting within the norm. When needed, the film is completely silent, and you can hear every breath; at other times, there's an ambient, dreamlike quality to the score and the visuals, sort of like a Swedish Malick. And when the time is right, Petersén just throws in a long scene where Johannes Brost sways to Roxy Music's titular track on a neon lit dance floor.
Nearly everything I have read about this talks about how it is an attack on a generation of Swedes, those 60-somethings that act like half their age without realizing the patheticism of it. Petersén has spoken about it in interviews, most characters are in their sixties and they are invariably pathetic so that's a part of it, sure, but to me it is more about the moral decay of Swedish society. Sort of like Östlund juxtaposed degenerate acts with some of our national treasures in The Guitar Freak, classic Swedish rock bands and radio shows can be heard during some of Avalon's most morally reprehensible moments, before the final, ironic blow is dealt with the national anthem during the last scene.
All the characters, and protagonist Janne in particular, act first and foremost in their own self-interest, but they are not completely without a moral compass, it's just terribly miscalibrated. The prime example is when Janne offers to carry the bag of the woman whose boyfriend he accidentally killed in a futile attempt at redemption. The genuinely moral acts are repelled, like in the symbolical scene where Janne tries to help a drunk boy in the street.
To the extent that morality is missing, money takes its place. It's no coincidence that the film takes place in Båstad, the morally corrupt town to which rich people from the capital (mostly) come to waste money and live like kings. As a drunk night club guest proclaims, Båstad is the new Almedalen (the area where politicians go annually to hold speeches, i.e. the place of power and influence), and "business is pleasure". Also, ironically, the repercussions for the aforementioned killing do not come in the form or the police, but the people who are paid to dispose of the body demanding their money.
There's a certain bounded rationality to the way everyone acts in this movie. The second time, I watched it with my parents, and nearly all their guesses of where the plot was going were wrong, not because they were bad guesses, but because people behave erratically, in a way that is unpredictable ex ante but logical ex post.
Out of the works of the directors mentioned in the beginning, this reminds me the most of Ganslandt's The Ape in its iceberg approach and in having former soap opera star Johannes Brost played wonderfully against type (like sitcom star Olle Sarri was). Many plot points are left unresolved, and character traits are only hinted at. For instance, we don't get to know what offense Janne committed in the past, which makes perfect sense in a movie where people place such a low value on morality.