Director – Johannes Nyholm – 2019 – Sweden, Denmark – Cert. 18 – 86m
A bizarre procession through the woods. A man in a light summer suit, spats and a boater (Peter Belli) cheerfully and enthusiastically sings a song about “my rooster is dead, never again will he sing, koko-di, koko-da” (‘da’ is pronounced ‘day’). Behind him walk a tall, black-haired woman (Brandy Litmanen) with a dog on a lead and a thick set man (Morad Khatchadorian) carrying a dead dog. The man with the boater’s attitude is one of delight yet here he is singing about the death of a bird. Most unsettling.
This procession will later intrude on the lives of the central characters, couple Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon). Their daughter Maja (Katarina Jakobson) is attracted to a traditional toy that plays the same nursery rhyme that the procession sings.
The family go to a holiday resort with entertainers. In the restaurant, mum gets sick. Food poisoning? Allergic reaction to mussels? She’s airlifted to hospital and slowly recovers. In the hospital, on the morning of Maja’s birthday, Maja doesn’t wake up.
Theatre curtains part to reveal a strange shadow puppet tale of the Rabbit family whose little girl flies away with a bird and meets with a fatal accident. The drawings of the background and characters are made in a primitive in form yet seem to convey powerful emotional truth.
Three years later, the couple go on a camping trip. In the car, they get on each other nerves. After terse dialogue punctuated by equally terse sounds of car bonnets and boots being shut, the koko-di, koko-da music plays alongside the journey. The couple do not appear to be dealing with their bereavement well.
From here, the film moves into a series of variant short narratives about what happens when they wake up in the morning in their tent which they’ve pitched in a forest. Which would appear to be the same forest through which the opening three person procession walked because the charmingly spoken boater man and his companions turn up to terrorise the couple. This scenario is rerun several times, working out a different way each time, although Elin always needs to pee and a white cat often appears prior to the procession of three people or one of their dogs. There doesn’t appear to be any obvious Groundhog Day style progression to these scenarios and the rerun device soon palls.
That’s a pity, because the opening reel is completely compelling while the puppet show presaged by opening theatre curtains – which is echoed in a similar shadowplay in one of the reruns – suggests an artistic sensibility close to David Lynch. There’s certainly no denying Peter Billi’s performance is technically brilliant and extraordinary. However, while the repeated scenarios play out as weird and frightening, to many they may simply appear little more than pointless, unpleasant and nasty.