Film Comment Selects 2013 Review: CALL GIRL Is Much More Than The Story Of A 14 Year Old Prostitute

As a viewer, I like to know as little as possible about a film going in. So when I scan the festival blurbs my eyes are looking for certain key words to jump out and grab my attention (and no, "14 year old" and "prostitute" are not on that list). Sometimes I don't even know what those words are until I see them. In the case of Mikael Marcimain's debut feature, Call Girl, what caught my eye was the phrase "from the 2nd unit director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."

It's not the broadest of descriptors, and one which probably wouldn't mean much to your average movie-goer, but for some reason it spoke to me. And I didn't even love Tinker Tailor. I thought it was an extremely well made, well acted film that could have been longer and fell flat at the end. Maybe I latched on to said bit of info because that film's director, Tomas Alfredson, also directed the fantastic Let The Right One In. Maybe my desire to see Call Girl was based on 6 degrees of my residual love for that vampiric coming of age tale.

Which explains why I didn't have a better grasp of what Call Girl would be. I was expecting an ultra mega-downer, one that makes you feel complicit in the awfulness that takes place on screen. But what I should have been expecting was a film very similar in tone and aesthetic to Tinker Tailor. Because Call Girl is much more than the story of a 14 year old prostitute. Based on actual events, it is an epic chronicle of political corruption and changing social mores in Sweden in the 1970s.

Sofia Karemyr plays a troubled foster kid named Iris who falls in with a manipulative madam. At first she is dazzled by the glamorous lifestyle, but soon finds herself in over her head, catering to the sexual desires of the political elite. Simon J. Berger plays Sandberg, who might just be the only honest cop in all of Sweden. He discovers the country's leaders have been engaging in illicit activities with minors, and sets out to take them down. Eventually the two storylines converge, as Simon and Sofia attempt to shed light on the corruption while everyone in power attempts to sweep it under the rug.

It is evident from the outset that Marcimain and his crew are master craftsmen. The opening sequences are directed with incredible verve, every shot exquisitely composed, the editing tight as a pair of period correct bell bottoms. It almost borders on distracting. But Marcimain knows when to reign things in and let the story take over. At least that's how it seemed to me. If the technical acrobatics continued at peak level, I was too engrossed in the narrative to notice.

The film also shares a cinematographer and art directors with Tinker Tailor, who recreate a perfect diorama of 1970s Sweden. It's exactly how I imagine the 70s were here in the US, only with funny accents.  

But it's not all cold, technical artistry. While Call Girl does share the procedural tone of Tinker Tailor or David Fincher's Zodiac, it is balanced by the humanity of Iris' story. Karemyr's performance is a low-key one, but quite subtle for someone her age. She may seem detached and sullen most of the time, but let's not forget-- she's playing a 14 year old girl who is forced to fuck men in their 50s and 60s. Not exactly room for a lot of sunshine in a role like that. Just a lot of nudity, loose skin and old balls.

It's salacious subject matter, to be sure, but despite all the nudity it is never exploitative. Still, the fact that Iris' abuse is framed by what is essentially a political thriller dulls the repugnance of it all and leaves room for titillation. When Iris experiences the glamor of the lifestyle, we experience the same glamor, as insidious as it is. It is only when things get truly ugly and we forget we are watching a movie that the blood pressure drops and the bile rises.

It's easy to see why Call Girl caused so much controversy in its native Sweden. Corrupt politicians are a dime a dozen, sexual indiscretions par for the course. But hey, even Bill Clinton kept it street legal. Allegations that a major political figure in a respected nation was guilty of statutory rape gave even the most jaded cynic pause. And the allegation that it was covered up by the Prime Minister at the time added insult to outrage. The film's release opened old wounds, despite being a work of fiction. Although they won't admit it did, it seems Sweden would like to forget this scandal ever happened. But not Marcimain and his crew. They want the public to be outraged, even if it is while they are being entertained.  

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor for LitReactor.com. He has also written for ChuckPalahniuk.net. He might still be a guitarist in the band SpeedSpeedSpeed, and is the poison pen behind thejamminjabber, although he's not so sure he should admit it.


Around the Internet:
  • mightyjoeyoung

    "In the case of Mikael Marcimain's debut feature, Call Girl, what caught my eye was the phrase "from the 2nd unit director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."

    Yeah...but he has done some great TV works...like Lasermannen(2005– ) which is better then this film I think.

    "It's easy to see why Call Girl caused so much controversy in its native Sweden. Corrupt politicians are a dime a dozen, sexual indiscretions par for the course. But hey, even Bill Clinton kept it street legal. Allegations that a major political figure in a respected nation was guilty of statutory rape gave even the most jaded cynic pause. And the allegation that it was covered up by the Prime Minister at the time added insult to outrage."

    The fact is that the Prime minister bears a strong resemblance to Olof Palme, Plames family filed a lawsuit and actually won....now, I don´t know what version you saw Mr Chaplinsky but the scene between Iris and the Prime minister is going get heavily cut.

    I´m glad saw this at the cinemas before it was censored.

    And as I understand it........we are not getting a uncut release in the future either.

    It´s ironic....since Palme himself considered Sweden to be very liberal.

    http://www.svt.se/svenska-hand...

    At 2:26 Palme talks about this in english, in this short doc about the sexscandal that erupted in 70´s.

    Nice review, thanks Mr Chaplinsky.

  • Vishnu Singh

    was just thinking about this film (i caught it at TIFF) and was lookign for a release date. It's very disheartening to read that when it eventually does get a wider release it'll be cut. - do you know if the cut's only apply to Swedish releases?

  • mightyjoeyoung

    It´s you again......you live in Sweden, figure it out yourself.

  • Thanks for reading, and thanks for the info!

  • mightyjoeyoung

    You are welcome, Mr Chaplinsky, sad news though.

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