The rainy Sunday of March 26 proved to be a perfect day for watching films. People lined up outside the Plaza Theatre around noon for the start of the third day of the Atlanta Film Festival.
“Aerobics: A Love Story” was one of these films. This production from Sweden movie tells the story of Maria, a mentally challenged woman, and Janne, a man who dreams of selling his ideas for television shows. As these two persons fall in love, they find in each other the strength to keep going. The film also marks the directorial debut of Andres Rune in the world of features.
There are many layers to this production, beginning with its aesthetics. Rune brings forth luminous environments where the camera almost always searches for wide shots. These elements invite the viewer into the story in a movie that keeps no secrets. This camera conveys every feeling and thought of these characters immediately and without barriers. It is almost impossible not to connect with these two people who want to leave their mark in the world.
This desire is constantly conveyed in the film. In one scene, Maria writes Janne’s name on a toolshed with chalk. Janne says this is the most wonderful thing someone has ever done for him. He takes the chalk and proceeds to trace Maria’s body on the toolshed. Both of them are leaving marks, maybe hoping that their lives are not in vain and that they too have something to say and to leave behind, despite what others say about them. While Maria is often labeled by others as a “retard,” Janne is often told that his ideas are worth nothing.
They do leave behind a mark, yes, which is probably the only thing that cannot be bought or forgotten. Maria and Janne leave in each other the mark of love, symbolized in the film in simple and yet moving scenes, such as when the two spread coffee cream on each other. This impulse to touch is constantly captured by the camera.
Maria feels the need of touch; she wants to be able to have contact with another body and go beyond just words. It is this touch she yearns for when, early on in the film, she masturbates in her room when she first sees Janne sleeping on his couch. She also seeks touch when she slaps her sister in the face. The slap is not the result of aggression, but rather the need to feel physically connected with someone.
During the film, Rune is successful in evoking touch with the visuals alone and this becomes one of the best characteristics of “Aerobics.”
Contributing to the construction of Maria’s character is the superb acting. Marina Nystorm plays Maria with realism, but without ever letting the disability define her character. The disability is only a layer, and Nystorm lets the viewers go beyond the appearances to discover what dreams and desires move Maria. Victor von Schirach, on the other hand, constructs in Janne a character who is on the edge of giving up. Much of his emotions come through gestures, which better construct the figure of someone who has always had problems communicating. Often, Nystorm and von Schirach do better without the words, relying only on movement and expression. The visuals are stronger, as it should be in a film.
If the movie fails in one area, it is in the way the director Rune chose to put it all together in the editing room. There are too many cuts that detract from the story. In several scenes, Rune cuts through many different angles abruptly, which forcefully interrupts the narrative and makes the viewer step away from the fantasy of watching a movie. While these cuts remind the viewer that the struggles of these characters are reflections of real life, their overuse seems unnecessary. It is as if the editing wants to compete with the story.
“Aerobics” is, however, a great experience with its characters that show in an incredible manner the desires and anguishes of being human. One walks out of the theatre feeling that there is, indeed, something that connects us all.