Stellan Skarsgard might be one of the busiest – and most laid-back – actors of today. Recently seen in Lars Von Trier’s controversial Nymphomaniac, with a role consisting of neverending lines of complex dialogue, this time the Scandinavian star has chosen action over words. In Order of Disappearance, a story of a coy snowplough operator-turn-killer, marks Skarsgard’s fourth collaboration with Norwegian Hans Petter Moland, and the director’s third film in Berlinale’s main competition as of today. What some have already hailed as “Norway’s response to Fargo” has been one of the biggest revelations of the festival’s 64th edition. Dark, provocative and disarmingly (and uncomfortably!) funny, In Order of Disapearance might be headed for a big win.
Two Serbian thugs watch a woman pick up her dog’s poo. “What does she do with it later?”, one asks another with a grin full of pity and contempt, before returning to his cigarette. They are based in Oslo, but particular western customs remain alien and despicable to them. Faithful members of the mini-cartel run by boss “Papa” , they share the local drug market with “The Count”, an overtly sensitive, neurotic criminal and healthy lifestyle freak who likes to shoot people and discuss his plans over a glass of freshly squeezed carrot juice. When, as a result of poor judgment, The Count’ kills Papa’s only soon, this fragile cohabitation will once and for all be shattered.
The reason for the system’s collapse is more than unexpected. His name is Nils (Skarsgard), and he works as a snow plough operator somewhere on the extremely snowy brink of civilization. Recently voted Citizen of the Year, usually rather introverted and devoid of any initiative, Nils discovers his merciless alter-ego when his son, Ingvar, falls accidentally prey to the drug war. The killing spree starts unexpectedly, as a small-scale incident, but soon it swells like a tumbling snowball, reaching for its next victims with a raging appetite and a very open mind. Death doesn’t care about nationality, religion or business matters. It’s a totally democratic forces.
In Order of Disapearance is one of the funniest films I can recall seeing in the last couple of years. However, due to a strikingly intense accumulation and very honest portrayal of brutality, it evokes a certain type of laughter: great pleasure while it lasts, might at times feel slightly uncofortable afterwards. The plethora of potential laughing matters in Moland’s universe is inexhaustible: from the dialogue, filled with the character’s hysterically funny cultural presumptions; situational humor and unforgettable one-liners; to framing and staging, whose emotionless, ascetic style allows seemingly ordinary scenes to fully gain their understated comical momentum. Who would have thought that in hands of a creative driver a snow plough could be so hilarious?
Sometimes intentionally low-brow, the film’s sense of humor is rooted in areas of sarcasm, irony and the brutally honest dismemberment of false stereotypes. Moland is a proficient genre-expert, milking its potential to the very last drop. He’s merciless towards his native Norwegians, exposing all their first-world prejudices and absurd presumptions, but remains equally inquisitive when dealing with other nationalities. Stupidity, it turns out, is not native to any one country. Such an accumulation of on-screen wit is rarely seen and can be easily appreciated by viewers from outside the film’s cultural context. At first I was convinced that In order… was a brillaintly dark comedy for self-proclaimed intellectuals, but after experiencing the screening with a non-professional audience I am convinced it’s potential appeal is much larger and way more liberal.
Skarsgard himself claims to hate cold weather, and to have had problems with acting at times due to extreme sub zero temperatures literally paralyzing his face muscles. Fortunately, Nils is not a character who exudes his sense of self and individuality through expressive mimics and gestures. The power of this character derives from his consequential calmness, preparing a fertile ground for an intense reaction once a visible emotion finally surfaces on his stoic face. Skarsgard brings true quality to the film, and, with the help of other prolific actors, takes it to another level of brilliance. Even rather brief appearances leave a lasting impression – Bruno Ganz’s Papa barely says a word but is a showstopper, and a crew of Serbian stars as his wolfpack are already one of the best supporting ensembles of the year. But the most spectacular character of the film is the snow. Its overbearing white presence creates a suggestive background for all the dark matter going on. No other color makes bloody red pop that much.