Call Girl (2012)

Call Girl

With its corrupt politics and hustling broads, Mikael Marcimain’s Call Girl offers a pleasurably nostalgic vision of teenage girls living in a material world.

Call Girl

Material Girl by Mark Wilshin

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

There’s a pure plastic pleasure to Mikael Marcimain’s Call Girl with its muted colour palette, moody lighting and lingering close-ups evoking all the best ’70s thrillers. And it’s just as well it’s so visually appetising, as times they’ve been a-changing. Set in 1976 at the height of the great leaps forward in gender equality and sexual liberation, it’s an age when sex is still scandal. And the great conspiracy that Marcimain reveals in his lugubrious crime thriller – of a Swedish Madame procuring all sorts of girls for high-powered politicians and Government ministers – even with its underage girls doesn’t quite cut the social mustard of the Seventies classics (All The President’s Men and Serpico) that Marcimain is indebted to. But with stunning cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema and a very Nordic noir combo of politics and crime, Call Girl is an enticing, nostalgic cinema of loose and lost morals.

Stockholm, 1976. It’s election year and Swedish politicians are competing for votes flying liberal flags of gender equality and sexual decriminalisation. 14 year old Iris (Sofia Karemyr) is a handful and after getting into trouble with the law is sent to Alsunda Juvenile Home for young offenders, where she’s later joined by her cousin Sonja (Josefin Asplund). Bored and penniless, they’re gradually ushered into a demimonde of topless dancing and sex in exchange for gladrags, drugs and money. It’s an extravagant world of champagne, platform heels and hotel rooms presided over by Dagmar Glans (Pernilla August), endowed with a special gift for making Stockholm’s political elite feel special. But as the Cold War rages, Polish callgirl Sasja comes to the attention of CID officer John Sandberg (Simon J. Berger), leading him into a dark and dangerous world of conspiracy, secrets and lies.

Like all good Scandinavian thrillers, it’s the politicians who cop the flak, up to their grubby necks in crime and, in this case, sex. And while the scandal may appear to modern eyes as just a question of paying for sexual favours, it uncovers a whole web of corruption throughout politics, Government and the police. The procuress at its heart, gloriously embodied by Pernilla August – all motherly comfort and vulpine viciousness – is untouchable; as she says, is she to be charged, defended and sentenced by her own clients? Discretion is her saving grace. But there are two flies in this high-class ointment – Iris, the headstrong girl stuck in a home with nothing to lose and John, the cinematic staple – an idealistic policeman – who ultimately meets an untimely death, his colleague’s warnings not to unearth this can of worms falling on deaf ears.

It’s only a matter of time though before they come for Iris, painfully exposed after appearing in court to testify against Dagmar, the defence rapidly retracting their appeal and settling for a suspended sentence. And in the film’s final scene, as Iris escapes both the men who threaten her and the correctional institute, scratched, bruised and without a penny to her name – she stares confrontationally at the camera; breaking the fourth wall to pose the question – what now? Who dares hold governments and corruption to account? It’s an uncharacteristically imposing device for Marcimain which, through leaving it up to the viewer to draw their own contemporary references, drags Call Girl out of the past and into the present.

With a fond nostalgia for the ’70s material world of cassette players and platform boots as well as the bygone days of burgeoning adulthood, initiated for the first time into an adult universe of champagne and oysters, Call Girl risks being all fur coat and no knickers. It’s enjoyably voluptuous with its shameless nipple tassels and sensitive too with its teenage topless embarrassment, but also gently ironic with do-gooding educators and political in its damnation of cross-party corruption. At times heavyhanded, with over-egged slow-mo sequences and on-the-nose crossword clues (the five-letter word SNARE leading to a knock at the door by the police) and at others disappointingly disparate (the stories of Iris, Dagmar and John never quite coalescing into nailbiting tension) but Mikael Marcimain’s Call Girl is nevertheless an enjoyable slice of Seventies Swedish vice – pert, sexy and stylish.

Call Girl is released on 16th August 2013 in the UK

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