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The liberating power of rock'n'roll music has been the source of inspiration for many movies ever since its birth in the 1950s. Films like Almost Famous (2000), The School of Rock (2003) and That Thing You Do! (1996) can be named as English-language examples of rock movies but Sweden has produced its own stories on the subject as well. To name two, Ulf Malmros' 2005 punk rock tale Tjenare kungen (a.k.a. God Save the King) makes a very nice companion piece to Reza Bagher's 2004 film adaptation of the novel Populärmusik från Vittula (a.k.a. Popular Music) that also dealt with small town kids' desire to spread their wings through music.
The story, based on a 2001 novel by Britta Svensson, is set in 1984. Punk rocker girl Abra (Josefin Neldén) lives in a small town and dreams of becoming a rock star but the town's narrow-minded atmosphere is hard for rebels like her. After meeting a fellow rock fan Millan (Cecilia Wallin), Abra moves to Gothenburg and starts a band called Tjenare Kungen ("Hello King") with her but nothing comes easy for the would-be rock stars: finding members for the band in an era when punk rock has gone out of fashion to make way for synth pop and glam rock, putting up with an uptight boss at a sausage factory, sorting out romantic feelings towards a handsome guy named Dickan (Joel Kinnaman)...
It can be imagined that the project has been a nostalgic one for the director Ulf Malmros who was in his late teens during the film's era. Perhaps this is why the 1980s atmosphere is so pleasantly recreated in the story: punk, rock and pop hits of the time are constantly playing, the fashion is flashy and hairstyles are as unappealing as expected. Still, everything is photographed with sunny, warm brightness that makes the film visually very pretty and youthful. The main actresses Neldén and Wallin look so cute in their roles that they can only be loved but Johanna Strömberg and Malin Morgan do their parts decently too as the self-declared fashion designer-keyboardist Gloria and the experienced older rocker chick Isa respectively. The latter is also the only significant adult character in the story; otherwise the perspective belongs entirely to the young to whom grown-ups are nothing but dead weight.
The plot is nothing strikingly original or imaginative: questions of selling out, romantic shyness, triangle drama and temporarily falling out with one's best friend are all ordinary youth flick material and would not carry the film far if it was not for the sympathetic young actors. Some scenes struck me as particularly clichéd; namely, the wedding gig (yeah, right) and the big finale (seriously, who didn't guess right away what the climax would be?). The brief saxophone jam scene was hilarious though, precisely because it was cut so short with perfect comic timing.
Regarding Nordic peers of Malmros' film, an obvious comparison can be made to one of my favourite Finnish movies Pitkä kuuma kesä (1999), although TK focuses on girls instead of guys and stays more clean-cut with much less alcohol use and bad language. Anyway, all things considered, Tjenare kungen is definitely an entertaining, fun and even delightful little movie, easily worth a look especially by fans of the music and fashion of the 1980s.
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