The recognition of first-world problems as a mockable cinematic trope is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the rush to impose a TV Tropes-type diagnosis brings a simplistic pass/fail proviso with it, which is the death knell for a form that needs plural analysis to stand out. On the other, it makes films that take smallness in their stride that much more distinctive and worthy of our increasingly rarefied attentions. Hello Hello is such a film; it shrinks its drama down to the middle-class struggles of snowy Sweden and comes out shining for it.
Apropos of a film that moulds mundanity into epiphany, Maria Sid quietly dominates as the lead. She’s a nurse who’s old enough to be tending after primary-school children, young enough to have her parents drop in to nag her about her shortcomings and, most importantly, endearingly awkward enough to be constantly pressing a lid down on the anxieties that both cause her. The opening scene tries to portray this in a bizarre compression of Sundance-ready images, but once these moments are staggered through, parallel threads start to unwind in an incredibly enjoyable way, from using her kids to save on eBay-bought Lego, to spontaneously responding to a fellow parent’s advances, to becoming the most ferocious participant in a Krav Maga class. Her performance is a miracle because it depicts her affectation skewing away from desire, without the latter or certainly the humour of the situation being lost on us for a second.
The most pivotal segment of her arc is one at the hospital where she pulls night shifts. It’s here that she befriends a mute old patient, Mary (Karin Ekström), who has been saved from the gutter only to literally spit on the staff’s attempts to get her home. With other pressures bearing down on her, Disa’s bedside manner crumbles into indignation, and in that release she gains access to a whole other part of her world, literally and figuratively. There are so many opportunities for this and similar events to feel naff and mandated, but writer-director Maria Blom is entirely too gifted to let that happen. Save for one weak and extraneous subplot about layoffs at Disa’s workplace, her circle of family and friends converge gracefully by the end to find the real aim so-called first-world whining: the question of how to make good on our shot at a good life.
The anchor for such talk of aspiration is the sophisticated view of families, specifically their staggering through divorce. It acknowledges that separations are important and sad, but also incredibly common and not necessarily traumatic. There’s no resentful bickering between Disa and Laban (Calle Jacobsson), but a barrier that cordons off what each person wants for themselves, and it’s not removed neatly. Meanwhile, Blom never fails to remind us that the children are just as much an agent in that situation as anyone. Her best achievement beyond finding such endearing two-left-handedness in the main characters is her use of child actors, who aren’t merely naturalistic but also out of step with the thrust of the scene in such a way that enriches the concerns playing on Disa and others’ minds. The big gift, really, is the new friendships she finds by being more engaged, as attested by the last scene between her and her new companions. It’s both a complete arc and a snapshot of a longer life, which makes the normalisation of a marriage ending that much more effective.
Small-scale projects run the risk of having a staid and conventional aesthetic, but this is a trap Blom avoids in wonderful ways. She shoots comedy like a dream, for one, with some mid-shots and scene payoffs being the funniest I’ve seen this year. She’s also not afraid to adapt to the drama, sometimes invoking histrionic indie tropes and then cleverly overturning them for surprising authenticity, as with the aforementioned modus operandi. Best of all, none of these choices ever belittle Disa for belittlement’s sake. They’ll minimise her person, and her struggles with it, but in that way they tap into a knowing attitude that justifies the pie-in-the-sky optimism involved in the resolution. This is what makes Hello Hello such a sophisticated treat on the whole.