Theater of Cruelty

Social heritage and criminal environment

Regissør: Peter Grönlund
(Sverige )

SOCIAL REALISM / With Goliat, Peter Grönlund reaffirms his position as one of the Nordic region's most socially engaged and real-life filmmakers.


Swedish director and screenwriter Peter Grönlund debuted in 2015 with Escape (Original title thief Honors), which with impressive credibility portrayed an environment outside the Swedish "people's home". After finishing film school, Grönlund – in addition to making some short films – had worked with drug addicts and homeless people in Stockholm, and he had done extensive research during the development of the feature film debut.

System Criticism

Escape was about a drug addict who fled from Stockholm after cheating on a drug dealer and ended up in an illegal camping settlement with people who in various ways have fallen out of society. Only a few of the actors in the film were professional actors. Instead, the roles were occupied by people with similar or related backgrounds as the characters they shape, whether they are police officers, social workers or people from the stressed environments the film provides a fairly rare insight into. Escape a tangible authenticity that one would hardly get with ordinary actors. Starring owner Malin Levanon is admittedly a professional actor, but reportedly prepared for the role by pulling out a tooth, sleeping in jail, learning to put syringes and losing 25 pounds – and was well-deserved with a Gold Bag for the film's efforts.

When I saw Escape with the director present at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, he told the audience that he had an ambition for the film to be system critical, without the people in the system – such as police and social workers – being portrayed as malicious. This is definitely a strength of the film. Nevertheless, the script – which also won a Gold Beetle – is based on a rather classic, progressive thrill plot. Not to mention without compromising the film's admirable sense of authenticity.

Crime in inheritance

Grönlund is now back with a new feature film, which recently won the award for best Nordic fiction film at the Oslo Pix festival. Goliath holds many of the same qualities as the debut film, not least the same authenticity. This time, he has exclusively used people without acting experience to shape the roles, including the most central characters – which has undoubtedly required a long and challenging casting process.

As the characters see it, the authorities are doing nothing but potentially taking the children away from the family or putting their father behind the walls.

Goliath is about the teenage boy Kimmie, who lives in a small place in Östergötland with his two younger siblings, a criminal father and a chronically ill mother. Since the father has to serve a sentence of 16 months (by his father and his circle referred to as a "coffee break", since it is not experienced as much longer than the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee), Kimmie is appointed to take care of his father's do-over duties in this period. But the young boy sees a way out for a better and more law-abiding future by getting an apprenticeship in a neighboring town – and has a sensibility and a cautious mood that doesn't necessarily fit particularly well with his father's rough shoes.

Unique cast

Goliath Director Peter Grönlund

This story also has many well-known elements from other films, such as the father / son problem and the focus on the difficulties of getting out of a criminal environment. This is not less evident by the fact that Grönlund's script is even more precise than in the first film, where the plot constantly tightens around the main character. But the filmmaker again manages to combine this with a striking authenticity, which can be attributed to a presumably thorough research work and a unique cast. Young Sebastian Ljungblad in the lead role is an obvious discovery, but most impresses Joakim Sällquist in the role of his father Roland.

The film is to be praised for its clear class perspective, as often is
is sadly absent in Norwegian feature films.

He himself has experience of substance abuse and imprisonment, and without previous film experience he also won a Goldbag for this role. Sällquist has a way of talking and moving that many actors will have difficulty acquiring – it signals working-class affiliation and a hard-lived life – while expressing both the love and vulnerability behind the harsh facade. This cast is important contributors to the fact that environmental and character portrayals are once again rarely experienced in a film that avoids simplified divisions of good and evil.

Class Perspective

Furthermore, the film is to be praised for its clear class perspective, which is often sadly absent in Norwegian feature films. In both form and content it is natural to compare Goliath with films by British social realists such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, as well as by the Belgian Dardenne brothers. The film draws a compelling picture of people with limited opportunities to earn money honestly in the post-industrial small-town community, as well as many of them bound by shady debt and old feuds. Here roles as well as conflicts are still inherited.

Goliath Director Peter Grönlund

With empathy, presence and in-depth knowledge, Grönlund portrays an environment in which the state is something to be feared rather than an entity with which to seek help and support. As the characters see it, the authorities do not help much other than potentially taking the children away from the family or putting their father behind the walls. The loyalty of the individual, the family and the criminals – or 'thieves' – remains, if you will.

Also for this film Peter Grönlund was rewarded with a Gold Bag for best screenplay, in addition to Goliath won the award for best clips and music. However, it is disappointing that he was not nominated for his direction. Much of the film's narrative power and humanism springs from the well-constructed script, but it is as much the reality-rich execution that gives Goliath its strength.

And the title? If I'm going to try on an interpretation, this is a movie about a David who is expected to become a Goliath. But it may also be that the film's Goliath is simply the social legacy.

Goliath is currently going to Norwegian cinemas (premiere date June 28).

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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