26 May 2013 | rubenm
If you're not Swedish, this film is nothing special
'Call Girl', a film about a sex scandal in Sweden in the 1970's, is labeled as a classic political paranoia thriller. It has indeed some elements of this film genre. There is the righteous police investigator who has to fight against corrupt powers. There are also mysterious exchanges in dark and rainy streets between men in raincoats. There is an undercover photographer who captures suspect encounters from a parked car.
But that is only one part of the story. 'Call Girl' is as much a coming-of-age film as a political thriller. The first half of the film focuses almost entirely on 14-year old Iris, an adventurous girl who ventures into Stockholm's night life and slowly gets involved in a prostitution network servicing high-powered politicians.
The movie is clearly meant as a critique of Sweden's ultra-liberal culture in the seventies. The politicians publicly defend equal rights for women and men, but at the same time use underage girls as disposable sex toys. On the other hand, Iris and her cousin Sonja seem to enjoy the excitement, the glamour and the proceeds of their secret life as call girls. They are not shown as helpless victims but as naive girls who only discover that they have made a mistake when it is too late.
'Call girl' is very good in capturing the mood of the seventies. A great job has been done by Dutch cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who created the same atmosphere for 'Tinker, Taylor, Soldier Spy'. But the film fails in creating the right amount of suspense. In the first half, the emphasis is too much on Iris's introduction into the call girl network. This part is too slow and too long. We see the same things over and over again: the girls visiting clients in posh hotels, the girls being 'brainwashed' by the network leader, the girls snoring cocaine, the girls parading around in see-through blouses, etcetera. The thriller element is more prominent in the second half of the movie, but even then the film never surprises in a positive way.
The most spoken-about aspect of the film is the Olof Palme link. The son of former Swedish prime minister Olof Palme has started a lawsuit because he thinks the film suggests that Palme had sex with underage girls. In fact, the name Palme is never mentioned. But apparently, in Sweden there has been a police report about Palme's involvement in the network, which has subsequently been covered up until the 1990's. Because of this historical link, the film is probably a big deal for the Swedes. But for the rest of the world, it is nothing special.