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Erik is expelled from school for fighting. He ends up at a private boarding school where the senior students control the young ones. Erik finds a friend in Pierre, his room mate. The story revolves around Erik who just wishes to be left alone and graduate. He doesn't listen to what the seniors have to say and they don't like it. Written by
Swedish "Ondskan" competed against a strong field in the Foreign Language Film category in last year's Oscar which was won deservedly by Canada's "Les Invasions Barbares". While my personal favorite is "Tasogare Seibei", Ondskan is a worthwhile contender.
The scene is familiar, boarding school bullying, upper class domination and violence. The message however is broader and more general. Ghandi has been mentioned a couple of times in the movie, which reminds me as well of the "enduring" heroes in the westerns in the fifties who adhere steadfastly to their principle, refusing to be provoked into violence (the best example is The Big Country). The motivation of the "hero" in Ondskan is however a little less lofty, as I'm going to explain.
Thanks to his dominating and sadistic step-father, Erik (Andreas Wilson) is well-equipped to endure violence and abuse when he is sent to a prestigious boarding school after causing a lot of problems at his local high school. While a veteran perpetrator of violence himself, Erik is effectively constrained as if by a spell cast by the boarding school: anyone fighting with a member of the student council will be expelled.
Most of the movie surrounds the senior students' tyrannizing over the juniors, and it gets a bit too long. There's no point in elaborating other than saying that the violence is not particularly graphic (accepting that some may disagree) and if you're going to throw up in the cinema, it's most likely due to some other revolting scenes, the details of which I'll spare. Although Erik's motivation in enduring the abuses and violence is essentially self-preservation (from expulsion), he does earn the audience admiration, which makes the poetic justice at the end rather sweet.
A great part of the movie's success owes to Wilson's excellent performance. Although most of the audience start with thinking that Erik is the "evil" character, they would soon turn completely around and empathize with him, and eventually love him. Also excellent is Henrik Lundstrom, playing Erik's meek, plump roommate who is victimizes as he becomes the villains' tool to break tough Erik. In addition to this affecting friendship, there are two other sub-plots which enrich the movie without detracting from the main theme. One is Erik's romance with a maid at the school. The other is his success with the school's swimming team.
Finally, one interesting point is that Erik's way out, his "court of final appeal", turns out to be indeed the legal route. While this makes it a little bit of a fairy tale ending, there is something to ponder over. There may really be numerous pockets of quasi jurisdictions such as the boarding school that really need to be straighten out by the real legal system. That point I'll leave to the legal experts.
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