Room 304 shows more than it tells
by Vladan Petkovic
11/07/2011 - Entirely filmed in a hotel in Zagreb, Birgitte Stærmose’s first feature, Room 304 [trailer], is a psychological drama that offers little detail on the background of its plot, instead building suspense ahead of the strong ending. The film had its world premiere in the Competition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
“People are close here. Maybe closer than anywhere else.” The film opens with this narration, as we get short glimpses of the main characters – the hotel owner Kasper (Mikkael Birkkjær, from The Escape), his mistress, the front desk manager Nina (Stine Stengade, Flame and Citron [trailer]), concierge Martin (David Dencik, A Soap [trailer, film focus]), the manager, Jonas (Sweden’s Magnus Krepper, The Girl Who Played with Fire [trailer]), Kosovan laundry workers Agim (Luan Juha, The Albanian [trailer])and his wife (Croatia’s Ksenija Marinković, Just Between Us [trailer]), Spanish flight attendant Teresa (Ariadna Gil, Pan's Labyrinth [trailer]), and two Filipino maids. A gun fires in a blurry detail shot, and takes us into a story which is more of a 'who did what and why' than a 'whodunnit' material, as we gradually learn the origin and path of the pistol.
But although a spectator is interested in the central plot, the many side stories (each of the characters has at least one) are even more engaging. They mostly tell of loneliness, loss and grief, and the style of the film emphasises emotional and psychological dimensions, rather than action.
Filmed in a mostly blue-gray palette by Croatian cinematographer Igor Martinović (Man on Wire [trailer]), with frequent detail shots and close-ups (which are, admittedly, blurry a touch too often), the picture has a dreamy atmosphere. It is accentuated by distorted sound effects by Kristian Eidnes Andersen (Antichrist [trailer, film focus]) and understated music for which Jocelyn Pook (Eyes Wide Shut) won a special mention in Karlovy Vary. The sterile environment of the hotel finely counterpoints the storyline which goes back and forth in time, written by Kim Fupz Aakeson (A Somewhat Gentle Man [trailer, film focus]) and expertly edited by Anne Østerud (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [trailer, film focus]).
Room 304 shows much more than it tells, and that is the primary quality of the film. It is an accomplished and satisfying work, and the loss of momentum near the end of the second act is compensated by the powerful finale.