A Film a Week - A Hustler's Diary / Maste gitt

Imagine a talkative low-level gangster doing a voice-over narration pointing that his life has changed dramatically because of a certain stream of occurrences. Add a bit working-class / low-life slang to it and some humour just to make it more interesting. Congratulations, you have got your basic gangster flick in which the tone can vary from a bit self-serious drama to full-throttle comedy. Now, transfer the whole thing from the usual context of Guy Ritchie’s London, Quentin Tarantino’s Los Angeles or Martin Scorsese’s New York to something different. Something European. Scandinavian. Maybe Swedish.

Is not Sweden a welfare state with low crime rate? It is and it is not, depending from the viewpoint. It is quite a nice place to live if one gets to the middle class or even a bit higher up the social ladder. Unfortunately, that kind of life is not always an option for someone of immigrant descent, especially if they are not promising athletes or artists. They are usually confined to some kind of ethnic ghetto located far enough from the city centre, ruled by unwritten rules, where crime could prove to be a viable option. Sometimes we get a chance to see that kind of life in Swedish films that aim for more realistic feeling. Sometimes we just see them portrayed like nameless, menacing criminal stereotypes.

The good news is that Ivica Zubak, the co-writer / director of A Hustler’s Diary, is of immigrant origins himself (born in Croatia), so he actually understands the complexity of the problem, and his view of the topic does not look like yet another potential minor theatre hit, nor it seems like an “over-medicated” (doctored) festival drama. His debut feature Dreams was a tense drama, on the verge of becoming a thriller, set in a similar milieu like his newest film that takes more clues from crime-comedies.

Our narrator guy is Metin Turkoglu (co-writer Can Demirtas), a small-time burglar and hustler who remembers the wise words of his late father that a person should plant a tree, write a book and have a child before the final moment. With the first task already done and while waiting for a suitable partner for the third one, he zealously keeps his diary as a source material for some future book project in which he describes his and his friends’ not particularly legal adventures. However, being smart enough and dreaming big enough, he dreams of switching his career of crime for something more respectful, like becoming an actor.

A botched audition for acting studies at the national academy ends with him losing his book. It is found by one of the professors (famous actress Lena Endre playing herself) and shown to her hipster publisher buddy Puma (Jörgen Thorsson), so instead of acting, Metin gets the chance for writing career. The trouble is that all the names, places and events in his “book” are as real as it gets. If the book gets published, his life on the mean streets of Stockholm project-building suburbia will be in a great danger.

Sincerity of the portrait of immigrant life and crime as a social mobility shortcut aside, A Hustler’s Diary works best as a darkly funny crime comedy. Lost diary might seem like a typical plot device leading the story down the predictable path, but Demirtas’ and Zubak’s script is smart enough to throw us a curveball every now and then and therefore keep us entertained. Some of the dialogue gets lost in translation, since its verbal humour component is actually based on the differences between street and standard language. Zubak also deserves kudos for his sense of directing. He works well with actors, most of them seen in his previous works, and shows admirable control of the rhythm of the film. On the other hand, the visuals sometimes leave a lot to be desired and the contrast between the city and immigrant suburbs could have been accented better, but slamming the film because of that might seem as nitpicking.

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