Elisabeth (Helena Bergström), who is about to be divorced from husband Henrik (Johan Rabaeus), is on her way to their son's wedding, when she is given a parking ticket by Gudrun (Maria Lundkvist) with whom she exchanges a shrill and abusive encounter. To both women's surprise, they meet again a few days later when Gudrun is persuaded to see her gynecologist by her daughter Liselotte (Erica Braun) only to find it is Elisabeth. The women become friends with Elisabeth encouraging Gudrun to have some fun, something she has forgotten how to do, since losing her husband Ake (Claes Mansson). There is no time for tears or regrets when the music and the dancing begin at Heartbreak Hotel.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's uplifting, funny and surprisingly moving, this joyous Swedish film about an unlikely friendship between two women trying to put zest into their lives. With sublime delicacy, writer director Colin Nutley encapsulates life's conflicts and insecurities for two 40-something divorced women. It all begins with a parking ticket and leads to joyous nights dancing to the compelling beat of the music at Heartbreak Hotel, which epitomises living life to the fullest. With splendid performances by Helena Bergström and Maria Lundkvist, this carefully observed and highly satisfying film will resonate not only for women of all ages, but for men who love women.
When Bergström's Elisabeth is given a parking ticket by Lundkvist's Gudrun on her way to her son's wedding, their encounter is both violent and confronting. Little does either imagine they are about to become the most important person in each other's lives. The next time they meet, it is the gynaecologist Elisabeth who is in control, as she examines a shy and insecure Gudrun in her surgery and they laugh about how awful some parts of both their jobs are. Control changes hands several times as the two women become friends and Elisabeth gives Gudrun some badly needed confidence as they unwind in the unruly and upbeat atmosphere of their local, the Heartbreak Hotel. Under the ever-flickering disco lights, there's a sense of being alive.
Watch out for an unforgettable scene in which Gudrun's daughter Liselotte (Erica Braun) confronts her mother disapprovingly in the hotel's rest room, when she sees her slam-dunking tequilas and letting it all hang out on the dance floor. There are dramatic moments as Elisabeth shrieks in defence of Gudrun's right to enjoy herself. But there's also a contagious sense of fun as we watch Elisabeth and Gudrun with an unused packet of condoms trying to get laid. It's the beginning of many adventures which include propositioning two policemen, riding on the back of motorbikes and ending up stranded in a field of flowers in the middle of nowhere. They laugh together and share confidences; when Gudrun confides she has never had an orgasm, Elisabeth offers a solution.
There are misunderstandings, interferences and resentment as echoes and ghost of the past appear. Heartbreak Hotel is their escape hatch where cares quickly soar out of the window. This is a gorgeous film with a wonderful soundtrack including songs like Bette Davis Eyes, Heartbreak Hotel, My Number One, Waterloo, Piano in the Dark and Jill Johnson's haunting Love Hurts, whose lyrics remind us 'love is like a cloud; it holds a lot of rain'. But as we hear at the beginning of the film, we are created through our encounters with others. Amen.
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SWEDISH FILM FESTIVAL
HEARTBREAK HOTEL (M)
CAST: Helena Bergström, Maria Lundqvist, Claes Månsson, Johan Rabaeus, Jill Johnson, Erica Braun, Marie Robertson, Christoffer Svensson
PRODUCER: Alistair MacLean-Clark, Maritha Norstedt
DIRECTOR: Colin Nutley
SCRIPT: Colin Nutley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Olof Johnson
EDITOR: Perry Schaffer
MUSIC: Per Andréasson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Pernilla Olsson
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: August 7, 2008; Melbourne: August 29, 2008; Canberra: September 3, 2008