Toronto 2023 Review: SHAME ON DRY LAND, A Sweaty And Oblique Euro-Noir

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
Toronto 2023 Review: SHAME ON DRY LAND, A Sweaty And Oblique Euro-Noir
Around midway through this unique Swedish-Maltese co-production, Shame On Dry Land, a question is asked of the main character, “Been a long day?”  Dimman, the uncertain, never in control, anti-hero responds, “Yea, it never ends.”  This is not a bug in Axel Petersen’s sweaty oblique Euro-noir. It is a feature. Tension is due to the unknown. We see things happening, but cannot quite keep up. Joel Spira (Snabba Cash) has a visage that is a perpetually moist 5-o’clock shadow. Dimman is out of his element, but fleet with his wits. He is not above killing two birds on one rock. On second thought, he may know more than we think, one is never quite sure.
Arriving in Malta to do some surveillance work at the request of his employer and occasional lover, Kiki -- a vampy blonde, played by Jacqueline Ramel whom I have not seen on screen since Nicholas Winding Refn’s Fear X -- Dimman has been laying low at sea doing harpoon fishing tours, and other seafaring jobs, after his online business went sour in a bad way back in Sweden. He left his partner and friend, Frederik, holding the fiscal (and legal) bag. He has been drifting around for a decade.
When it happens that Frederik not only lives in Malta, but is getting married in only a few days, Dimman insinuates himself into the wedding in the most awkward shifty-eyed, loaded body language, way possible. An early eight to ten minute tour de force sequence is exemplar in tense, sweaty awkwardness, where the close, jittery camerawork is co-conspirator. Dimman confronts Fredrik (and his bride to be) in front of their house in the middle of the night, with no warning. Nobody wants to say anything overt, but past events hang over everything like a pall. This is happening mostly internally, and we is given far far far more vibe than tell. The words are polite, if terse, but empty. Subtle facial expressions speak volumes. This is a confident filmmaker conditioning an audience how to watch the film, and a specific promise for what they are in for.
Shame on Dry Land is that rare bird of sensual fusion of commercial Hollywood and European arthouse sensibilities that have yielded challenging special thrillers along the lines of Olivier Assay’s’ demonlover, Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Whistlers, and recently Albert Serra’s Pacification. All of these films also have a certain kind of sleazy globalism, where the characters are are up to something shady in a steamy foreign land. 
Here it is a collection of Swedish expatriots who are involved in the world of eGaming and online gambling. They have set up their business in Malta as either an opportunity or a dodge. Nobody in the Swedish community (which includes Kiki) seems the normal kind of tech worker type. This is a community likely built on, and from shenanigans. Noirish in the sense that there are no good people on screen. Far from a tourist ad for the small Mediterranean island of less than half a million people, cinematographer Jose Enblom’s digital photography convincingly evoke a distressed 1970s 35mm print — perhaps series of reels of Antonioni’s The Passenger that has been ran through the projector a few too many times. 
The film mostly takes place at night, in anonymous buildings or second rate hotels: one of those hot nights where you sweat uncontrollably at 2am, and can cut the air with your hands. Other goings on occur along the rocky coast, on leisure boats at high noon where you can feel the scorching sun and smell the salt in the sea air. This is no breeze. This is contrasted with scenes of well dressed rehearsal pre-parties for the wedding, as if striving for legitimacy in a swamp of immorality.
This location-whiplash is coupled with a whizzy, windy score that often dominates the soundtrack so as to obscure (again, by design) what is happening. Dimman has the opportunity to get Frederik out of a jam with the escalating cost of his wedding, while also getting some comeuppance against a corrupt taxation officer that Kiki has him spying on. Shame On Dry Land goes from a long soliloquy about the social importance of who and when the bride or groom cuts the wedding cake, to people falling out of windows, to a person slowly asphyxiating in a dark grotto, with a dry-bag of stolen passports. You might need to shower afterwards.
After all the rumpus (and rumpy-pumpy, as the late Roger Ebert would often say) when the caper subsides and the film end (and ending of which is suprisingly unexpected) I remain entirely unsure of everything that went on, or who was related or scamming whom. That is kind of the point. It is a challenging little number that will keep you on your toes. Even as the wedding planner (perhaps the shadiest character of them all) belts out a rather random rendition of Cher’s “Believe” over the closing credits, it is already inviting a second viewing.

Shame on Dry Land

  • Axel Petersén
  • Axel Petersén
  • Christopher Wagelin
  • Joel Spira
  • Julia Sporre
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Axel PetersénAxel PiotrowskiChristopher WagelinErica Muscat Josua EnblomEuropeJacqueline RamelJoel SpiraJulia SporreMaltaMichalNoirShame ON Dry LandSwedenSyndabockenTommy NilssonDrama

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