Thursday, January 27, 2005


1983, Denmark, directed by Bille August

As coming-of-age stories go, Zappa is far more bitter than sweet: it's nothing like the heartwarming Swedish My Life As A Dog, made a year later and set a few years earlier. Zappa follows an odd trio of boys in early 1960s Copenhagen: rich kid Steen, a manipulative bully who has everything but the love of his high bourgeois parents; middle-class Bjorn, with whom we're invited to identify most closely; and good-hearted working-class Mulle, the reliable gag-man. From such unpromisingly clichéd raw materials, Bille August fashions a very affecting series of snapshots, as Bjorn in particular navigates the shoals of adolescence and figures out how best to free himself from the malign influence of Steen. The sense of time and place is perfectly judged, with the class tensions of post-war Europe (even in reputedly egalitarian Denmark) in clear relief. The young actors are spot on, as is so often the case in Scandinavian cinema: from their work, you'd assume they all went on to long careers in the movies, but you'd be mistaken. A little patience is needed to let this movie work its spell, but it's worth the investment.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States