Heartbreak Hotel is actually damn good. Swedish movies released in New Zealand tend to be few and far between, something I’ve never really understood as I have yet to see a bad Swedish movie. This one tracks the growing friendship between two middle-aged single women, one a gynaecologist and the other a parking warden, from their initial expletive-laden meeting (Gudrun tickets Elisabeth’s car as Elisabeth is rushing to her son’s wedding) through a few hilariously awkward moments (Elisabeth performs a gynaecological examination on Gudrun) to the touching finale (which I’m not going to tell you).
The acting is superb. Helena Bergstrom and Maria Lundqvist are two of Europe’s most accomplished actors and it shows. This is a film which succeeds admirably but could so easily have fallen flat were it not for the chemistry and dynamism between the two (particularly in the scene where the drunken pair stumble through Stokholm and hit on a young policeman who offers to drive them home).
Bergstrom is particularly moving in the scenes with her character’s former husband, in which she pulls off a masterful mix of pride, anger and self-control. The film also comments powerfully on age differences in sexual relationships. Elisabeth (who is actually really attractive) has seen her husband leave her for a girl young enough to be his daughter, while the 21 year old she encounters at the bar (Heartbreak Hotel, from which the film takes its title) walks off in disgust when Elisabeth tells him he is the same age as her son. The more reserved Gudrun’s past is equally blemished, prompting Elisabeth to recklessly take over, resulting in a compelling and brilliantly acted argument scene. Credit to director Colin Nutley for tackling this difficult subject in a head-on way, making for a mature and thought-provoking film, which is very entertaining to boot.