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Future Frames Review: 1981


- An erotic 80s aesthetic belies a complex film of disappointment and resentment, directed by emerging Swedish talent, Dawid Ullgren, and selected for EFP Future Frames, Karlovy Vary

Future Frames Review: 1981
Bengt Braskered and Per Öhagen in 1981

One moment we’re served a sleek and shiny slice of erotica, and the next, we’re given intimate access to the unspoken disappointments that form part and parcel of any marriage. Either way, Dawid Ullgren’s 1981 is an intriguing and stylish piece of work that offers the audience much more than its neon-drenched Eighties aesthetic would have us believe.

Ivar (Bengt Braskered) and Pål (Per Öhagen) are a happily married couple who are looking to inject a bit of excitement into their love life. They decide to visit a sauna with the promise of illicit encounters, on the basis that whatever happens in the sauna, stays in the sauna. Ivar immediately catches the eye of the cheekbone-chiselled, body-sculpted Morgan (Razmus Nyström), and very soon the two of them retire to take things further. But as their sexual encounter progresses, the exciting, glossy veneer of the forbidden is fast stripped away to reveal uncomfortable truths about power and dominance, as well as a deep-seated and unshakeable unhappiness.

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The beginning of 1981 sees Ivar and Pål at home, looking every inch the couple living the domestic dream. Shot in 4:3, these opening scenes are warm and comforting, though slightly claustrophobic with their framing of domesticity as ever so slightly suffocating. Once the opening credits have rolled, the film widens to 16:9, seemingly offering a greater sense of space and of freedom.

But when Ivar and Pål enter the sauna and take a shower, Ullgren undercuts this sense of exhilaration through tight shots and quick cuts, slicing up bodies to the point of abstraction. There’s a certain sense of energy here, but also a sensation of dislocation and confusion. As Ivar finds himself the object of Morgan’s desire, and heads off into the bowels of the sauna, we’re as if shocked by neon reds and blues, the ultimate 80s aesthetic.

The resulting encounter between Ivar and Morgan is an intense and powerfully erotic exchange at the outset, charged by their partaking of the forbidden, and the novelty of control and dominance. But as the encounter progresses, Ivar reveals far-reaching insecurities which transform the exchange into something verging on rape. Like the 80s aesthetic, the surface excitement of the moment conceals a disturbing underbelly of regret and recrimination.

Braskered deserves much credit for his lead performance. His slightly balding and paunchy protagonist is visually at odds with the lithe and muscular Morgan. Ivar is a stranger in a strange land, the epitome of middle class domesticity, who obviously harbours huge volumes of inner-doubt. Crucially though, the film never looks to condemn Ivar and Pål for their desire to pursue anonymous sex outside of their relationship. Instead, it criticises them for not asking themselves why they’re looking to go elsewhere, and what that might mean about their relationship.

1981 is about the rush and excitement of erotically-charged moments, but it also warns us that such moments will always lose their power if we fail to face up to certain truths within ourselves. The film will, of course, be a big draw at events specialising in LBTGQ+ films, and those offering ‘Midnight Erotica’ sections will also find it a good fit. But it will also appeal to viewers who can appreciate clever and stylish use of the short film form and will doubtless find favour with audiences when it screens in European Film Promotion’s Future Frames, at this 2018 edition of Karlovy Vary.

For more information on 1981, click here.

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