HOTELL (2013)

Final Rating: 9.0/10

Director: Lisa Langseth

Actors: Alicia Vikander, David Dencik, Simon J. Berger

Country: Sweden

Genre: Dramedy

I am a huge advocate of Swedish cinema. It may come as no surprise to people who know me well, but for those who don’t, here is a short introduction. To me, Swedish cinema is the fine line between the relations one can get from American cinema (as I do live in North America, after all) and the escape European cinema can provide. Many things in Sweden work similarly to the way society works here in Canada (except perhaps more so, such as having power fueled by garbage being the extra mile to how we treat garbage here in Canada, even though we still do a lot). Cinematically, a lot of parallels can be drawn between the realistic films Italian, French and Russian cinema embarked on during the days of movies as a lot of pressing issues are often brought to light. Ingmar Bergman, of whom I consider the greatest filmmaker there ever was personally, almost always tackled serious concerns in society whether they be religion, the order of life, structure, health concerns, and more. These themes can be found even now in modern Swedish cinema, ranging from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which opened the door to Swedish films for many, to Let The RIght One In that added many layers to the typical horror movie and was beloved by many horror fans (both movies even got American renditions, just to prove a point).

Hotell is another worthy film to note here as it is a movie that works exactly the way its main character does, which is very rare to see executed precisely. Erika, played by Swedish newcomer (and superb talent) Alicia Vikander, goes into labor early and has to give birth instead of have the c-section she scheduled. Her baby suffered complications during birth and is now going to permanently suffer from brain damage. The movie this entire time is excruciatingly heavy, with every sound being amplified by how quiet each scene is in between noises. The movie is as lost as she is. At first, I was clinging onto my seat expecting another damagingly confrontational movie. Erika visits a support group not because she wants to but because it is advised of her to. I felt as excited to be there as she did, having to listen to these people and their stories and miseries. Once the movie does a u-turn and decides that the main concept is now about Erika’s healing process with these very same people I grew to dislike (rather quickly, mind you), I suddenly expected the worst. I expected a typical sloppy movie full of nonsense. It was so hard to accept because the movie wasn’t just serious until that point, it was downright depressing. How could the movie work its way to being acceptably funny?

Somehow it does. Erika and her new friends end up visiting various hotels to escape the world and be with one another. As with Erika, at first I do not want to be a part of these events. These people are just so awkward. We have a man and a woman who begin to like one another and it feels a bit absent. We see a woman who craves some sexual interaction in her life and it seems desperate. We even have a man who is basically a middle aged infant who is obsessed with history and torture. Why on earth would I care to watch these people? They seem just so bizarre. As the movie goes on, though, I magically grow to like these people more and more, and so does Erika. I never felt pressured to like these people because Erika did, either. I found myself rooting for these characters and noticed that Erika would do the same right behind me. In most movies, reoccurring jokes make me want to leave more than laugh. Rikard, the older man with the personality of a child, is fascinated by the Mayan civilization, and it is just about abysmal to handle at first. If anything, I found it funnier the more it was brought up, which is an absolute rarity for me.

A large part of this movie isn’t just Erika opening up to her insecurities and problems, but it’s about us opening up too. The characters never change, despite their developments, as they are still the same people from the very beginning. It is us that change and finally see past the weirdness these people exude. We discover the reasons for their abnormalities. The deeply rooted social anxieties these characters possess were fed mostly by the inability of others to listen, and we were those people at first. We won’t be by the end of the movie.

The jokes also get funnier and funnier, and I can guarantee that the same jokes I didn’t really care for at first will get funnier if I rewatch the movie (which, trust me, I want to). Now that I understand the nature of the movie, I can see it all as one cohesive piece instead of the various breaks of which moments are funny and which are serious. Part of the lovely and gradual shift in between both territories is Alicia Vikander’s performance (who you may recognize from A Royal Affair, Anna Karenina and this year’s The Fifth Estate), which is one of the best of the year. The amount of pain that is projected through simply her eyes is astounding. Even when she is happy, you can see that something is on her mind that she is fighting off. Everyone in this film gives a good performance, as they may be a bit weird but they are never over the top (although Rikard, played by David Dencik, nearly crosses this line a few times but never obliviously).

The movie proceeds to be funny with the odd dramatic event  taking place when each respective character demands their fix, whether it be compassion, sex, or self torture. Of course, comedy can be found in these moments as well. However, towards the end of the film, these fixes are no longer able to hide behind humour, and that is when everything is placed on the table. Now that we genuinely care about everyone in the film and are happy for their abilities to face their fears, we are left with a humongous climax that is everything from excruciatingly humiliating to severely damaging (much like life can be at times). It shows Erika finally being able to face her fears (without giving anything away) and having reality hit her after she faced her fear, as opposed to her being lead to this confrontation by acceptance. With one of the best scenes I have seen so far this year, the zenith of Hotell is beautifully executed, hyper realistic, and simply magical. It may have been a silly disappointment if it was handled badly, but director Lisa Langseth handles this scene expertly well. It is a scene that will likely plant itself in your head for a long while after.

The movie finally ends with an open question, of which I won’t reveal here. It isn’t one that leaves the movie empty. It is one that completes Erika, which was the reason for this movie in the first place. Her problems weren’t brought to the hotels with her. She escaped to the hotel. Life sat waiting for her. We were her escape, her support and her friends. The credits are handled wonderfully as well, as the film “continues” during the credits and allows the supporting characters to come to fruition as well without becoming an afterthought. I never thought it would be lovely to see them again, but instead I wish the credits were even longer so they wouldn’t leave.

Hotell is a triumphantly successful movie that is meant to be seen. It is a great dramedy that looks at serious issues with some light and some severity being juggled. It is a roller coaster of emotions that allows you to decide when to finally open up, and the film is all the more rewarding when you do. It’s exceptionally shot, well acted, full of dimensions and layers, and beautiful in every humanistic sense of the word. Like staying at a hotel, the movie is sadly temporary. Fortunately, you can always revisit whenever you want.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.