Wide angle: Mail hangups

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Indy Lifestyle Online
If you were disappointed by the post-apocalyptic pretensions of Kevin Costner's Postman, then check out the wonderful new Junkmail. Set in the murky bars and backstreets of Oslo, this first feature from Norwegian film-maker Pal Sletaune (right) delivers a pleasing package of black comedy, intrigue and romance. At its centre is Roy. Slobbish, mean, nosy and love- starved, his junk male is Oslo's (and probably the world's) worst postman. Weary with boredom, Roy's daily round consists of steaming open love letters, dumping junkmail, getting drunk and fending off the unwelcome advances of a mooning co-worker. Until, that is, a mysterious young woman forgets her keys in her mail box. Letting himself into her apartment, Ray becomes involved in something much more dangerous than reading other people's letters.

"I first conceived the character of Roy four years ago," says Sletaune. "He's one of the unlucky, the insignificant. Many people think he's a scumbag, but Roy's very innocent, too. There's no plan to his existence, he's just curious, he goes where life takes him. When I told my co-writer Johnny Halberg about Roy, he instantly liked and understood him, so we started trying to write a story around him."

Finding the right narrative for Roy proved more difficult than they imagined and by the second draft, Junkmail's writers were in despair. "We worked a long time to try and find an inner logic to the film, but after the second version we just wanted to throw the whole shit away," says Sletaune. "It had become too plot-driven. We hated it. Luckily, we began working with each scene much more freely in the third draft and it started to work. It became more like a Beckett farce."

Indeed, like the works of Aki Kaurismaki and Lars Von Trier, Junkmail offers a piquant combination of gloomy realism and deadpan drollery, but Sletaune resists the idea of an uniquely lugubrious Scandinavian sensibility. "Yes, I suppose those films do have a similar feel, but they're just the few that travel internationally. I think generally, Scandinavia makes a lot of pretentious films with no sense of humour at all!"

And even if Junkmail's murky palate does seem to chime with the Scandinavian stereotype of long nights and heavy drinking, Sletaune is eager that his film should be viewed in a wider context. "I always wanted to make a film that looked like this. I love texture. I'm very fond of 1970s films like Midnight Cowboy that have that gritty quality. This is a film that is set in Oslo, certainly, but we tried to take it out of time and place a bit. We don't discuss politics, we don't show the newspapers. It could be any European city. I think films should try and create a universe, even if it's just on a small scale, it doesn't have to be Bladerunner."

Sletaune began his career as a documentary-maker, spending five years on a film about a German artist called Kurt Schwitters before realising that he didn't have the right attitude for verite film-making. "I always wanted to create my own reality. I'd say 'no, don't say that, say this.' That was why I stopped it. I always wanted to change things, I still enjoy observing people, but now I can make up my stories."

Although he did his fair share of menial jobs between the ages of 18 and 23, Sletaune has never worked in a post-office, so it was a surprise to find that much of the bizarre fiction he concocted for Junkmail held up a grimy mirror to reality. "We had special screenings of the film for the postal workers of Oslo and gave them lots of free drink, because we were a bit worried about offending them," he remembers, "but they loved it! They said that most of what was on screen was absolutely true. That retirement scene with the gold watch, for instance. That seemed slightly absurd when we wrote it, but they said, 'How did you know it happens like this?' That was scary. It just shows, really, that when you try to imagine something, the truth is always much more wild."

'Junkmail' is released on 10 Apr

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