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Inside Out 2012: ‘The Crown Jewels’ is made of pyrite

The Crown Jewels

Directed by Ella Lemhagen

Written by Ella Lemhagen and Carina Dahl

Sweden, 2011

Fragancia (Alicia Vikander) walks into her interrogation. As she sits in silence, a detective inquires, “Tell me what happened. You went up to Mr. Persson’s house at midnight to see Richard Persson. Why?”

Fragancia answers, “If I’m going to tell you, I want you to believe me.”

Her testimony also serves as the plot to Ella Lemhagen’s The Crown Jewels, and as Fragancia intimates, the story is fairly hard to believe.

The film starts off with the shooting of Richard Persson (Bill Skarsgård from Simon and the Oaks), Fragancia’s childhood acquaintance. Because she was at the scene of the crime, she’s arrested, and at her interrogation, she reveals her tempestuous childhood in order to vindicate herself of any wrongdoing.

When we are exposed to Fragancia’s childhood, the film becomes an examination of gender roles, as well as the strain of societal expectations, and, for a while, it’s faintly reminiscent of American Beauty. Rife with sentiments of patriarchy and masculine chauvinism, the film strongly critiques the misogynistic jingoism and unrealistic suppositions of both society and parenthood.

For example, Fragancia’s father (Michalis Koutsogiannakis), who wants to have a son to become a great bullfighter, wanted her to be a boy. His next child, a male, was born with Down syndrome, effectively crushing his dreams. The two setbacks cause him extreme anguish, but the film makes it clear that the grief is self-imposed. In fact, Fragancia’s brother is named Jésus, which reflects the extreme chauvinism and expectations of her father.

There’s also the story of a young Richard, whose father adamantly wants him to be a great hockey player, and a boy named Pettersson-Jonsson, Fragancia’s effeminate love interest who combines hockey with figure skating to become a great hockey player himself.

All of these stories help underline the film’s message of not underestimating people on the basis of stereotypes or social conventions, but, altogether, they aren’t all that integral to the film’s narrative anchor, which is the crime in question.

Perplexingly, the film also becomes fanciful in nature, filling the screen with dreamlike imagery, metaphors, and wildly improbable scenarios (especially concerning Pettersson-Jonsson’s hockey career). But because the film carries itself with earnest seriousness, and because everything is told under the pretext of a criminal investigation, the film’s whimsical tangents become incongruent with its pensive tone.

Also, as a minor nitpick, the film is technically inconsistent; especially regarding the mise en scène. From the attire and surroundings of Fragancia’s childhood, it’s suggested that the film is set in the late 40’s or 50’s. But when she grows up, we see some modern technology, such as computers, colour TV’s and voice recorders, mixed with the old, like 50’s era cars. Whether a glaring continuity error or a Brechtian storytelling device (in which case it doesn’t work because of the inappropriate nature of the film’s whimsy), the inconsistencies are distracting.

The ending is contrived in order to easily wrap up the narrative loose ends, which, coupled with the films bungled attempt at whimsy, makes the entire story far-fetched and unconvincing. The film has a few good ideas, but instead of being an indie gem, The Crown Jewels is a trinket made of pyrite.

– Justin Li

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