Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
"The New Country is a modern Swedish spin on an old Hollywood genre: the road picture... Geir Hansteen Jörgensen’s film, trimmed down to feature length from a mini-series on Swedish television, adds an element of topicality to the formula. The buddies in question, Massoud and Ali are illegal immigrants who, having fled violence and persecution to come to Sweden, find a cold welcome in Scandinavia.
Ali, a teenager from Somalia, is infatuated with his new homeland. He dresses in a blue-and-gold track suit and dreams of representing Sweden at the Olympics. Ebullient and energetic by day, Ali is tormented at night by memories of the horrific violence he escaped in his homeland, where his family was massacred. Massoud, who is from Iran, is grumpy and suspicious, viewing Sweden as a country rife with fascism and bigotry: he thinks the phrase ‘green thumb’ is a racist slur. His tender concern for Ali is checked by his gruff impatience with the younger man’s irrepressible joie de vivre...
Mr Jörgensen’s way of telling their story is full of freshness and surprise. Visually the film, shot in bright, harsh digital video with jerky hand-held camera moves and tight, tilted close-ups, shows the influence of the Dogma 95 movement, but it avoids the selfconscious abrasiveness that has become the dogmatists’ calling card.
The heroes are joined early in their odyssey by Louise, a former beauty queen and pinup model who serves as their muse, mother figure and love interest (and who has plenty of problems of her own). Ms Boysen’s fleshy, uninhibited presence gives the movie both an exuberant sexual kick and a tug of romantic yearning.
The generous, open-hearted Louise stands in marked contrast to most of her fellow Swedes. While they are not on the whole the Nazis that Massoud imagines them to be, they hardly seem worthy of Ali’s fervor…
There is, perhaps, an element of high-minded self-loathing in these portraits and in the implicit contrast the director draws between his buffoonish compatriots and Massoud and Ali, who are in better moral and physical shape. But his comic sense, the delicacy of the main performances and the film’s gritty, off-the-cuff verve rescue it from piety. Toward the end when Massoud delivers a faltering speech on friendship and human goodness, the movie slides toward television melodrama. But his point has been dramatized well enough to make The New Country a touching exploration of contemporary dislocation and a winning testimony to the possibility that it can be, at least temporarily, overcome." — A.O. Scott, NY Times