Oyenstikker : Norway 2002 : Marius Holst : 110 mins

Dragonflies was shot on a tiny budget in under three weeks, with many scenes made up on the spot via improvisation. But you’d never tell, so elegantly tense and beautifully shot is this Scandinavian three-hander that manages to breathe new life into a fairly tired set-up: an ex-criminal’s determination to stay straight is sorely tested when a former colleague appears on the scene.

Eddie (Kim Bodnia) is a bearded, bearish bloke in his late thirties, living happily and quietly with pretty, younger Maria (Maria Bonnevie) in a large but modest lakeside house in the countryside. The couple’s contented rhythms are severely disturbed after Eddie bumps into old partner-in-crime Kullman (Mikael Persbrandt) and brings him home for dinner. The attractive, fresh-faced visitor’s attentiveness to Maria rapidly inflames Eddie’s insecurities – but Kullman has ulterior motives for his scheming that has roots in the men’s shared underworld past.

Dragonflies is based on a story by Nikolaj Frobenius, best known for writing the original Scandinavian version of Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia remake: this is a similarly moody, atmospheric thriller that pays especially close attention to the atmospheres of a specific, remote rural landscape. Frobenius co-authored the screenplay with director Holst, combining gentle homage to the Robert Mitchum noir classic Out of the Past, with elements from Polanski’s early efforts Knife in the Water and Cul de Sac.

While the basic situations are undeniably familiar, they’re lifted out of the ordinary by the believably edgy, mature performances that load pauses and silences with as much weight as the economic dialogue. Some of the developments may strain credibility – Maria and Eddie are rather too tolerant of Kullmann’s eccentricities, which rapidly veer into looney-tunes territory – but this gives several scenes something of the sharp, absurdist-comic edge that made Harry, He’s Here To Help so hard to resist.

Given the circumstances, Dragonflies is a remarkably accomplished package – credit is also due to Magne (A-Ha) Furuholmen and Kjetil Bjerkestrand, who collaborated on the score, and to cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund, who makes Eddie and Maria’s world an alluring dreamland of water and lush greenery. So much so that, when Eddie finally accompanies Kullman into the city, it’s a nerve-janglingly nightmarish trip into a concrete hell.

26th August 2002 (seen 18-20th on video – Edinburgh Film Festival)

For all the reviews from the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young