Writer: Kristian A. Söderström
Cast: Stefan Sauk, Lena Nilsson, Amanda Ooms, Martin Wallström, Sven Wollter, Carolin Stoltz
Running time: 93mins
What’s the story: Former video store owner Ennio (Sauk) begins to doubt his friends when a valuable VHS that could solve his money problems is stolen.
What’s the verdict: A surprisingly touching examination of late middle-age regret, Videoman is a slippery debut from Swedish writer/director Kristian A. Söderström. Part Ken Loach or Aki Kaurismäki social drama, part giallo thriller, it takes a sensitive look at curdled nostalgia and obsession.
Ennio lives in the basement of a snowy Gothenburg apartment block. During the 1980s he owned the most respected video emporium in all Sweden, which he has re-created at home, cramming it with shelves of outsized VHS tapes.
Facing eviction, a shot at salvation comes when he buys a valuable VHS edition of Zombie from the sad-faced Simone (Nilsson) (who sells it at a bargain price in a moment possibly inspired by a deleted scene from High Fidelity).
Mysterious video collector Faceless (Emmerdale actress Stoltz) wants to purchase Zombie for €10,000, solving Ennio’s money issues. But, when the tape goes missing Ennio works through friends and fellow obsessives to discover who could have stolen it, while developing a tentative romance with the alcoholic Simone.
Character drama disguised as a thriller, Videoman is an anti-80s-nostalgia movie. Both Ennio and Simone are locked in that long-gone decade when they were in their prime, and their obsession costs them relationships with family and friends.
Sometimes this is comic – Ennio lambasts a friend’s wife for not allowing him cult cinema posters in their flat. Sometimes it is heartbreaking – Simone’s climactic confrontation with her resentful daughter, a scene also demonstrating Söderström’s skill with actors.
Time is made to flesh out characters’ lives with messy background problems. Simone is persecuted by a poisonous colleague (Ooms) and unfeeling boss (Wallström), and quietly judged by her upstairs neighbour (Wollter).
Clearly a cult cinema fan, Söderström indulges himself and fellow aficionados in scenes of hilariously spot-on petty arguments. Is Lucio Fulci really better than Dario Argento? Does a graphic sexual image reveal that actress Rosalba Neri was body doubled? Even the character name Faceless is presumably from a 1987 Franco film of the same moniker, starring Helmut Berger, Telly Savalas and Brigitte Lahaie.
And he nails the sheer joy forty-somethings and up feel when in a VHS store. Sure, videotape cannot hold a candle to Blu-ray, but those large clamshell cases with striking cover designs are how millions of people first grew their love for film and that thrill lingers.
Söderström directs the traditional horror-thriller elements with a slightly skewed view, suggesting the booze and movie addled Ennio may be seeing conspiracy and danger where none exists. The director is also comfortable enough with the genre trappings – heavy shadow, heavier colour gels, fetishised murder weapons – that he could deliver a traditional horror if he wanted. Although we like his wry take on the whole thing.
Topped off with a synth score, Videoman is an unusual movie reminding viewers that sometimes the biggest adventures happen when looking to the future rather than living in the past.