Junk Mail

Oct 21, 1998 at 12:00 am

Roy, a mailman in Oslo, Norway, doesn't seem to take his job very seriously. Once a day he lugs a pound or two of junk mail he's been given to deliver and stuffs it into a hole in the wall of a train tunnel where, it appears, about half a ton of the stuff lies festering. When a man in an apartment lobby anxiously asks him for an expected piece of mail, he pockets it, claims it hasn't come yet, then takes it home to read it. And when a young woman (Andrine Sæther) accidentally leaves her keys in her mailbox, he sees this as an opportunity to poke around her apartment while she's at work.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this odd little film, the first by Norwegian director Pål Sletaune, is that this reprobate civil servant seems almost likable. Played by Robert Skjærstad, who looks like a slightly puffy Tim Roth, Roy isn't a leering, amoral creep; he's just another incredibly bored guy who has a tedious and thankless job. That he invades people's privacy is, of course, unforgivable, but this poor sap's far too lethargic to be evil.

And the Oslo that Sletaune shows us makes Roy's seedy activities seem natural. Almost everything is a nauseating green or a dusky, opaque blue. The people all seem stunted in a way that's hard to put one's finger on, as though years of cold weather and alcohol had left them all either brutish or turned inward. One of the reasons Roy is drawn to the woman who leaves her keys in her mailbox is that she stands out like a flower in the desert. She looks normal.

Sletaune and his co-writer Jonny Halberg have managed to cram a substantial amount of plot into what is essentially a black comedy mood piece. As the plot evolves, and Roy's involvement with the woman moves beyond the pilfering-from-her-apartment stage, it turns out that she too is a disgruntled drone and has been a participant in a crime which is much more serious than any of Roy's little transgressions.

Junk Mail is reminiscent of the dour comedies of the prolific and sometimes brilliant Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismaki (Ariel, The Match Factory Girl), who also was an influence on Jim Jarmusch. It shares the same pervading mood of absurdist hopelessness, though at times it lapses into a more pedestrian type of humor -- with one too many slapstick beatings. Its idea of a happy ending is to have one of the main characters dead and stuffed into Roy's junk mail hole. It's a promising debut.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].