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Oslo Discord

[whitespace] Junk Mail
Sleet, Hail ... Whatever: The mail definitely doesn't get through when scruffy, gloomy Roy (Robert Skjaerstad), the Newman of Oslo, makes his postal rounds in 'Junk Mail.'

'Junk Mail' delivers squalid fun

By Richard von Busack

THE LOW-RENT parts of Oslo in Pal Sletaune's Junk Mail show that the spirits of Knut Hamsun and Edvard Munch could still find a home in the Norwegian capital. What a dump Sletaune's city is! It's painted bile green and mud brown, and everyone looks unwell. Some have respiratory diseases, hawking like TB patients; others farm blemishes on a diet of canned spaghetti and bootleg alcohol. At least they all have jobs. The scruffy, gloomy postman Roy (the Tim Rothish Robert Skjaerstad) serves his time, ditching most of his mail inside a railway tunnel and pawing through the few letters he deigns to deliver in search of dirty pictures.

One day, Roy goes a step farther. Line (Andrine Saether), a distracted woman on his route, leaves her house keys hanging out of her mailbox, and the postman explores her apartment, even duplicating the key for return visits. Falling for Line, Roy inherits the woman's problems, saving her from an overdose and facing some fairly violent men.

The squalor is so overdone that it's funny, just as it is in John Waters' films and Charles Bukowski's stories. One line sums up Roy's uselessness. One of his co-workers, trying to be nice, is arguing that everyone has a purpose. She's challenged by the other postmen, who ask, "Well, then, what about Roy?" She hesitates, then answers, "He's good at walking." There's poignancy in the midst of all the rot. Line, the (mostly) innocent center of the sleaze, looks like she's worth protecting; she makes shell shock a little sexy. Sletaune's filmmaking is laudably compact; while there are plenty of details to number the awfulness of the whey-faced Roy's life, none of them turn out to be gratuitous. Everything pays off--from Roy's voyeurism to the jackhammers that rock his apartment.

Obviously, a movie suffused with gack, puke and ichor is not everyone's idea of a good time, but Sletaune makes it all sort of perky. Unfortunately, the thriller plot doesn't thrill, and seeing the decadent-looking postmen's party that Roy visits for a minute, I felt cheated--surely, that was where the fun was. The real struggle in this life is to keep from descending to the lower depths, but Roy is clearly at home there. Untroubled by yearnings, he shuffles through the film as a not-unappealing hero, a grimier '90s version of the Little Tramp.

Junk Mail (Unrated; 83 min.), directed by Pal Sletaune, written by Jonny Halberg and Sletaune, photographed by Kjell Vassdal and starring Robert Skjaerstad and Andrine Saether.

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From the May 14-20, 1998 issue of Metro.

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