The Bothersome Man
by Jef Burnham
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Norway’s, The Bothersome Man, is a surprisingly fun look at the incompatibility of humanism and consumerism. Director, Jens Lien, takes us into The City, and “Most people are happy here… They think it’s a nice city.” Never mind the fact that population is composed of emotionless workaholics, who rejoice in nothing but interior design; The City’s liquor is served without alcohol— the food without taste; and no one seems to remember what dreams are or what babies look like. All new citizens are adults, deposited outside The City in the middle of a mystic wasteland by a bus that vanishes a few miles out. Andreas (the title’s bothersome man) is one such newcomer, with no memory of how he got on the bus, or who, if anyone, he was before his arrival. Yet The City provides for its own, and Andreas finds he has already been set-up with a furnished apartment and a job as an accountant.
Much like Kafka’s The Trial, the world of The Bothersome Man is not wholly unlike our own, but ever-so-slightly and surreally askew. The presence of Big Brother is remote, yet looming as bald men in grey jumpsuits, and no one seems to bat an eye as a man hangs, disemboweled, from a spiked fence. But not to worry, physical injuries do no harm in The City, as Andreas learns after cutting off his finger, only to find it seamlessly reattached that evening. On top of apparent invulnerability, Andreas also discovers a room where music, which seems to be banned in The City, emanates from a crack in the wall.
Meandering and fast-paced, The Bothersome Man covers a lot of ground in its 90 minutes. With its aridly dry humor, it is as hilarious as it is unsettling and bizarre, retaining much of the style of its most notable predecessor, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, but without disconnecting The City from the world we live in. The inhabitants seem normal enough, but they address each other almost entirely in pleasantries and have lengthy discussions about nothing more philosophical than the benefits of different types of sofas. As such, the film relies heavily on its cinematography to convey Andreas’ discontentment, which is simple and effective as a window into this superficial dystopia.
The Bothersome Man is available on DVD from Film Movement, which offers a DVD-of-the-Month Club, showcasing award-winning independent and foreign films (The Bothersome Man won numerous awards, including three top Amanda Awards (the Norwegian Oscars), and was featured at the Cannes Film Festival). Each Film Movement DVD features a short film. Included with The Bothersome Man is a superfluous, 3-minute short from the United States, entitled True Story. Described on the cover as “A tale about innocence and acceptance,” True Story is as mediocre as it sounds.
Jef Burnham is a film critic and freelance writer living in Chicago.
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