Call Girl: All the Prime Minister’s Women

YOUTH IS SEDUCTIVE. POWER IS CORRUPT. 

 

The most highly anticipated feature film directing debut in Sweden this year belongs to Mikael Marcimain, who cut his teeth making three acclaimed miniseries for Swedish television. Two of them were set in specific eras and paid a lot of attention to historical and cultural details without forgetting the human aspect of their stories. As a result, the decision to base his first feature film on a well-known prostitution scandal involving high-ranking politicians in Sweden during the 1970s made us expect greatness. He comes close to it.

The year is 1976. Sweden is a few weeks away from its next parliamentary election where the Social Democratic government will face center-right challengers. It has become an open secret among the police that a lot of men who belong to the highest levels of society see prostitutes; some of them work closely with the Prime Minister and some senior intelligence officials believe that these men pose a potential security risk. The women are provided by Dagmar Glans (Pernilla August), a highly successful madam who knows how to spot a weakness in each of her potential girls and use it against them to achieve her aims. Dagmar’s latest victims are Iris and Sonja (Sofia Karemyr, Josefin Asplund), two 14-year-olds who live at a juvenile detention center outside of Stockholm. They frequently run away late at night to party in the city and are instantly smitten with the charismatic Dagmar who’s nothing like any other adult they’ve met before; she provides them with money, booze and an apartment to party in with their friends… as long as they agree to sexual favors.

Treading sensitive ground
The director and his screenwriter, clearly inspired by American paranoia classics like All the President’s Men (1976), tell several stories in this long but ultimately very rewarding film. It is a straightforward thriller where a police officer (Simon J. Berger) begins to look into the activities of Dagmar Glans and discovers just how powerful her clients are, which catches the attention of shady individuals higher up who will stop at nothing to bury the investigation. This part of the film lacks tension at first, but the fear becomes tangible after a while; a key sequence involving a car crash is filmed from high above, creating a sense of surveillance. The story is also a portrayal of what it’s like to be a teenage girl, curious about every aspect of adulthood (especially alcohol and sex) but lacking the experience and insight to know your rights. This is where the film’s heart lies, always siding with those who are too young and fragile for this wicked game; the filmmakers successfully create a bond between the audience and Iris in particular. Finally, there’s the political scandal, and that’s where we tread sensitive ground. The script was obviously based on a story told by two women a few years ago, claiming that they had worked as call girls for a madam in Stockholm at the age of 14; among the clients were not only the Justice Minister at the time (which was already well known) but also supposedly two Prime Ministers. This has never been proven, which is why it’s important to remember that Call Girl is not a documentary… no matter how closely some characters resemble real-life figures.

Hoyte van Hoytema’s period cinematography is reminiscent of his earlier Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, painting Stockholm as a chilly place where the underworld frequently touches base with the high and mighty. As the link between them, August is magnificent as Glans whose tools of manipulation include flattery, charm, persuasion – and icy intimidation.

Call Girl 2012-Sweden-Norway-Finland-Ireland. 140 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Mimmi Spång. Directed by Mikael Marcimain. Screenplay: Marietta von Hausswolf von Baumgarten. Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema. Music: Mattias Bärjed. Cast: Sofia Karemyr (Iris), Simon J. Berger (John Sandberg), Josefin Asplund (Sonja), Pernilla August (Dagmar Glans), Anders Beckman, Sven Nordin… David Dencik, Sverrir Gudnason, Ruth Vega Fernandez, Claes Ljungmark, Klas Östergren, Magnus Carlson.

Trivia: After a legal dispute involving the filmmakers and the family of the late Prime Minister Olof Palme, one controversial scene was edited down.

Last word: “When I started working on ‘Call Girl’ I thought I was doing a pure conspiracy thriller, strongly flirting with some of my favorite American films of the 70’s. Very plot driven and inspired by a true political scandal in Stockholm in the mid 70’s. In a way, everything was in the script, but the more I got involved in the process of researching, casting and later, shooting the film, I felt I had to get into the grey zones of all the characters in the plot, trying to give them as much depth as possible, letting them be contradictory, not clearly good or bad. Visually I was looking for something rough and close to skin but also glittery and colourful, with some sort of cinematic poetry.” (Marcimain, press release)

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