Wednesday, May 23, 2018

SIFF 2018: The Cake General

The Cake General (Tårtgeneralen)
Is Köping the most boring town in Sweden?  Back in 1984 a popular Swedish TV show thought so.  And they devoted a whole segment of their program to showing how dreary the little town was.  This insult infuriated Köping-resident Hassa P.  He decided to strike back by putting his town on the map.  How?  By constructing the world’s largest sandwich cake.  Thus The Cake General, a hilarious new comedy based on those real-life events (and currently showing as part of SIFF 2018).

Narrated by Filip Hammar, who was a young boy living in Köping back in 1984, this film is a charming, funny, and, yes, heart-warming account of those events as well as a celebration of human eccentricities and differences.  And if anyone is a little different, it’s lead character Hassa P.  During the opening credits we see him running through town with his latest invention: a pair of jogging shoes with large metal springs on the bottom - the kind Wylie Coyote would use.  He thinks they’ll make you run faster.  While A-Ha’s “Take on Me” plays, we watch him jaunt, stumble, jog, fall, and finally make a drunken sales pitch for the shoes to a small crowd of baffled onlookers.  Ultimately the police show up and haul him away.  Hassa P., it turns out, is just one of the town drunks.  But a drunk with great ambitions.  He fancies himself one of those great entrepreneurs who rose to prominence in the '80s.  He dreams large.  And if in reality he’s spent most of his life on benders in between failed ventures, once he gets a new idea he won’t let it go.  Equally colorful is the Filip’s father, a beret-wearing Francophile whose eccentricities - he takes his 10 year old son to see Paosolini’s torture-porn film Salo - are the bane of Filip’s school life.  During the course of the film, Hassa P.’s crazy example will inspire Filip as well.  

Mikael Persbrandt

Written and directed by Filip Hammar and Frekrik Wikingsson, The Cake General is a lot of fun.  Not only is it set in the 1980s, but I also found it evocative of some of that era’s best comedies, especially Bill Forsythe’s Local Hero (1983).  It shares that film's charm and gentle sense of humor as well as its ability to winningly depict an entire community as a character.  Both films would fill a double-bill well.  The cast, headed by Mikael Persbrandt as Hassa P., are all excellent.  And if the film tugs at your heartstrings a little too obviously - the end of the film reunites the real-life Hassa P. with his townsmen in 2009 - you don’t really care.  The important part of a guilty pleasure is not the guilt, it’s the pleasure.  And The Cake General supplies that in abundance.  

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