Director: Ronnie Sandahl
Screenwriter: Ronnie Sandahl
Runtime: 97 mins.
Australian release date: Scandinavian Film Festival 8-9 July 2015
Ronnie Sandahl’s debut feature Underdog was an award-winner at the Chicago and Zurich Film Festivals last year and it’s easy to see why it appealed to such diverse audiences - it’s a universal story examining issues of class, immigration and the struggle to make one’s way in a new culture.
Like many young Swedes, 23-year-old Dino (Bianca Kronlöf) moves to the Norwegian capital Oslo in search of work and financial security because life in Sweden is a bit tough. This may come as a surprise to many Australians as there is a tendency here to think that all Scandi countries are equally well off but it would seem that this is not the case.
In fact, a quick look at Wikipedia will tell you that, “Norway ranks as the second-wealthiest country in the world in monetary value, with the largest capital reserve per capita of any nation,” while poor old Sweden is “the seventh-richest country in the world in terms of GDP (gross domestic product) per capita.”
It doesn’t seem like a big difference on a scale of wealthy countries but, judging by Sandahl’s film, on a personal level it means a great deal. There’s a cutting line in Underdog that reveals this disparity and the resentment it has caused when Dino says, when asked what Swedes think of their wealthy neighbour, “We think of you as a retarded cousin who has won the lottery.” Bam! Take that!
When Dino answers an ad for a job at a restaurant she talks her way into being the nanny for the restaurant owner, Steffen (Henrik Rafaelsen) a retired sports star. His wife is abroad and he has two young daughters to look after but he’s busy with his various business activities. As Dino becomes a regular in Steffen’s household her relationship with him morphs into something more intimate and soon they are lovers. This shift is portrayed quite naturally, without the accompanying angst that is usual when extra-marital affairs are depicted on-screen.
Dino’s relationship with the girls changes too and there’s a very interesting dynamic to her connection with the teenage daughter in particular. It helps that Dino is probably nearer her age than she is to Steffen’s! It remains unsaid but no-one in the family seems to really expect that this ménage will endure and one of his script’s great strengths is the way Sandahl resolves the situation. In this, as in all other aspects of Underdog, Åsa Mossberg’s precise, unfussy editing is of critical importance.
The director has said, “I always try to portray politics through personal experiences or personal experiences through politics. I needed to find a way to recount simultaneously the shift in economic and social power between Norway and Sweden, but also the imbalance between men and women and employers and employees… The finale shows this and I had that ending in mind ever since I started writing.” It’s interesting to note that the original title, Svenskjävel, means “bloody Swede.” Who knew?