By: Lubaba Mahmud, Staff Writer
For a much-needed break from midterm preparations, I went out to see the North American premiere of Out of Tune on Saturday, October 5. This was my first time attending a Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) screening, and boy was I impressed. This Danish film, with its fascinating characters and unique storyline, was an obvious crowd pleaser. I kid you not, I saw one guy laughing so hard that he almost fell out of his seat.
The film’s protagonist, Markus Føns (played by Jakob Ulrik Lohmann, sometimes credited as Jacob Hauberg Lohman), is a crafty businessman jailed for committing fraud worth millions of dollars. Once in prison, Føns ends up getting badly beaten up by some of the other inmates. Although initially wary of solitary confinement, because this is where the “perverts and pedophiles” hide themselves, Føns has no choice but to desperately request refuge there. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where the true magic starts.
Once in solitary confinement, Føns struggles with declining mental health. In the beginning, he avoids contact with other prisoners as he deems them to be beneath him. However, he soon reaches out when loneliness becomes unbearable. Since prisoners are allowed to meet each other for choir and “shared time,” he joins the choir, where an instant mutual dislike between him and choirmaster Niels (played by Anders Matthesen) becomes evident. They clash in an elaborate power struggle, where Føns constantly tries to undermine Niels because of his jealousy of Niels’ dominance over other choir members. He notices that naïve thief Simon, played by Christopher Læssø, and deputy guard Morten, portrayed by Anders Brink Madsen, are intrigued by Føns’ success, wealth, and fancy lifestyle. By pretending to become their friend, Føns uses them as pawns for selfish gains. Føns’ story of his time in prison is full of drama, clever schemes, and psychological manipulation, all tied together with the perfect level of irony.
A riveting dark comedy, Out of Tune is not shy to embrace its quirkiness. The film brilliantly showcases human behaviour and interaction in an unnatural setting like prison. The interaction of gullible characters like Simon and Morten, with the charming and sly Føns, makes the audience titter time and again. The actors masterfully engage the audience in this prison drama. Even though I know I should detest these prisoners for their atrocious crimes, their raw humaneness made it hard at times. Føns’ complex and badass character has a certain depth to it. Despite the unwritten rule of not asking prisoners about their crimes, he does so anyway with zero sympathy or cautions. He is unapologetic about his persona and has an overpowering confidence about him. Moreover, the cunning dialogues do a stellar job of bringing out dry humour and cynicism — qualities I often look for in films.
Director Frederikke Aspöck’s eye for technical detail is exemplary. She uses symmetrical movie shots to give the impression of discipline and order in the prison. To complement the environment further, the background music uses piano in creative ways and sets the mood just right for each new scene.
Out of Tune is the perfect mix of oddball characters who, despite having a tangled history of tragedy, interact with each other in a darkly comedic way. As a fan of offbeat stories and refreshing plotlines, I was overjoyed to discover this gem.