CallGirlThe darker side to the 1970s sex industry has been explored extensively in film this year, with both The Look of Love and Lovelace taking a candid look into the seedy and precarious livelihood from such a time. However it’s no surprise whatsoever to see the Scandinavians handle the subject matter the most delicately and efficiently, in Mikael Marcimain’s compelling drama Call Girl.

Inspired by real events that shook Sweden in 1976, we delve into the life of the troubled 14-year-old Iris (Sofia Karemyr), who is sent to a juvenile home following bad behaviour. Escaping at nights to go out with her cousin Sonja (Josefin Asplund), the pair are soon enticed into a world of prostitution by the extravagant Dagmar Glans (Pernilla August), hand-picked to serve some of the most powerful men in Sweden – with political ministers amongst the upper class clientele. However as police detective John (Simon J. Berger) is on their tail, though certainly finding the evidence to convict those involved in this murky business, his allegiances are torn as the government wish to protect their own reputation in the build up to the forthcoming election.

The socio-political context is subtly enforced, as we arrive in Sweden during a time of women’s liberation and a sexual revolution, with the theme of equal rights effectively going against the narrative. With a pertinency in the story – with a heated debate about the ethicality of phone tapping by the government – Marcimain has structured his production masterfully, as we move between the story of Iris becoming embroiled in the call girl business, and the police tracking the situation, knowing fully well the two world’s will collide at some stage, to devastating effect.

However we don’t see nearly enough reason nor justification for Iris to turn to this lifestyle. Of course we appreciate she is just a credulous rebel who gets a kick from being independent and going against the grain, but that doesn’t quite suffice, not if we’re then supposed to be rooting for her well-being, anyway. What we do get a sense for, is the naivety of youth and the carefree attitude that can lead to dangerous places. It’s that superficiality whereby attention and compliments gives Iris a sense of power, but only to then fall for the tricks of the trade, spiralling into a deep, dark hole. To begin with, being told she is beautiful is a term of endearment for Iris, and yet by the end she can’t bear the sound of such words.

Marcimain handles his lead role with a delicate ease, as although sexualising her right from the word go, the voyeuristic approach ensures that the audience feel almost guilty watching her at work, which is exactly how it should be given her tender age, as her vocation feels seedy throughout, and never truly glorified. Karemyr is wonderfully cast for the role too, as even without saying very much, she carries an alluring screen presence, which is a necessity as far as this role is concerned. The distinct lack of depth to the character development is an issue however, yet one that is made up for by an intriguing discovery of corruption and deceit in the government, as they cover up sordid information regarding their own employees – a sub-plot which eventually takes centre stage.

Though an ultimately shallow piece of filmmaking – and one that is difficult to invest in emotionally – it remains a captivating and enticing piece of cinema. The 70s era is captured extremely well too, while we also get some ABBA thrown into the mix. It’s right at the end, so the filmmakers really make us wait patiently for it – but it’s worth it. What? You can’t set a Swedish film in the 70s and not have some ABBA, it goes against the unwritten laws of popular culture. Everybody knows that.