Apr 21, 2017

The Garbage Helicopter (Jonas Selberg Augustsén, 2015)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A co-production between Quatar and Sweden (where the action takes place), The Garbage Helicopter (Sophelikoptern) is best described in the opening lines of Stephen Dalton's The Hollywood Reporter review, as "a minimalist road movie with a surreal sense of humor".

Wallowing in the absurdity of everyday life, it appears as a wildly odd cross between Davide Manuli's (The Legend of Kaspar Hauser) and Roy Andersson's (A Pidgeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) works peppered with a handful of Jarmusch-esque 'hipsterism' and tiny pinch of Lynchian... je ne sais quoi, but it's not a dream logic.

Drawing comparisons to a lesser known Buñuelean comedy Avida (by Benoît Delépine & Gustave de Kervern) as well, this hyper-deadpan first feature-length effort from Jonas Selberg Augustsén comes as a biting refreshment for the arthouse enthusiasts. Hell, there's even a building (a diner? museum? bus station? kino theater?) with a huge 'Art House' sign above its entrance!

And speaking of huge, the protagonists - three Romani siblings - keep coming upon various XL objects on their mission of returning an ancient wall clock to their grandmother who lives hundreds of miles away. Their visits to the world's biggest cheese slicer, cleaning brush and garden chair (disgracefully burned in front of their eyes because Germans made a much larger one) operate as a dry running gag amongst many others, including crosswords, bubble wrap, speed cameras and "We do speak Swedish" reply every time someone addresses them in English.

There's an overwhelming sense that the trio's quest might be a possible answer to a riddle that is posed time and again: "What keeps running but never gets anywhere?" However, after a few detours and accidents (involving cows and art thieves) during the journey, they do reach the final destination (and this is not a spoiler) where another oneiric puzzle regarding the titular aircraft awaits the viewer. What is clear, though, is that, as poker-faced as possible, Augustsén pokes at casual racism and points to the loss of cultural identity due to globalization.

Occasionally, one has the impression that the film's quirks and its pace - deliberately monotonous - outstay their welcome, but the monochrome pictures are so beautiful that you just can't stop looking at them. From the very first shot to the very last, The Garbage Helicopter is a series of meticulously composed widescreen tableaux, simultaneously funny and melancholic in their 'immobility'. Accompanied by silence or elegiac tracks and conjoined by black screen rest-points, these vignettes of high-brow WTFery are sure to induce some chuckles along the way.

At the moment of writing this article, the film is available worldwide (except Germany and Sweden) for FREE at Festival Scope, with English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Serbo-Croatian subtitles.

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