Last week I went to the preview of the Swedish Film Festival expecting a moody film, populated by long-limbed, blue-eyed, impossibly attractive Swedes. Instead I got Cool Runnings: The Swedish Edition.
Nice People is a film that documents the project to form a Somali National Bandy Team, from the community of Somali refugees living in the Swedish town of Borlänge, and take them to the World Championship in Siberia.
Borlänge is a town of approximately 50,000 people accommodating a large population of Somali refugees, and something about the Somalian refugees though has led to racial tension and general unease in the community. Residents are seen complaining that the Somalian refugees don't integrate, don't work. And so, in this climate, a plan for integration through sport is hatched by local entrepreneur Patrik Anderrson to allow local residents to see that the Somali men are hard workers, and trying to integrate.
Bandy is, as far as I know, ice hockey but with a round ball instead of a puck. None of the Somalis have ever been on ice skates before, and the montages of them stumbling about, first on inline skates and later on the ice, are hilarious and heartwarming. It's like Funniest Home Videos for people with fully intact souls, because no one sustains any permanent serious injury.
It's not quite a documentary. It almost is, but it doesn't really do enough to explore the issues of racism, xenophobia and integration. Cinematically, however, it is stunning. The Swedish landscape is beautifully shot and each location is explored as though the camera was a pair of fresh eyes. But content wise, it's a bit unsatisfying. There are lots of scenes where dialogue is drowned out by non diegetic music, and the Somali men remain one amorphous group – very little time is spent getting to know them as individuals. It’s a bit like junk food: delicious, but lacking substance. Or, a better metaphor, it's like going to a pretentious restaurant which serves delicious food, but in really tiny servings and so you leave still hungry, and the film tends towards over-dramatisation and emotion over gritty exploration. It’s a pity. There was scope to do more.
What the film does achieve is to really show the uniting power of sport. The best part of this movie for me was a scene where a crowd of Russians comes out to cheer on the Somali team. When asked why they are cheering for the Somali team they beam as they tell the camera: "Because they are strong like us, because they have heart." Sob.
See this movie if you like pastel tones, heartwarming montages and happy crying. Don't go see this movie if you are expecting a really thorough exploration of xenophobia and racism. But do go see this movie. It's nice.