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D: Jarand Breian Herdal / 34m

Cast: Henrik Plau, Ina Maria Brekke, Philip Bøckmann, Eirik Risholm Velle, Ruben Løfgren, Nicholas Rowley, Aksel Kolstad, Morten Müller

Having completed a two-year stretch in prison, Gary Clowne (Plau) is released, but there’s a catch: he must spend the rest of his sentence – three years – doing community service (he’s also tagged for his troubles).  Once on the outside, Gary’s belief that he’ll be sweeping streets or cleaning toilets is cruelly dashed when his new employer, Vitaly (Løfgren) tells Gary he’s going to be a clown.  Cue a selection of “gigs” (including a funeral) before Gary winds up at a hospital for patients with mental health issues.  There he meets Jen Fliers (Brekke), one of the doctors; he’s immediately infatuated with her.  To Gary’s surprise, Jen has sex with him in a supply cupboard almost immediately after he introduces himself.  Finding themselves locked in, Jen calls on her boyfriend, Richard (Velle) to get them out.  They leave the hospital together but get no further than Richard’s car; once inside they start having sex.  Gary heads for home on foot, feeling sad and dejected.

A passing motorist warns Gary that there are lots of monkeys in the area.  Baffled by the man’s comment, Gary continues walking until he finds himself in an alley, convinced someone is following him.  He’s not wrong.  A man in a monkey suit (and carrying a flick-knife) tries to attack Gary but he manages to run away.  The man in the monkey suit chases after him.  Gary finds himself back at the hospital car park where Jen and Richard are still parked up (and still having sex).  The three of them manage to get away from the man in the monkey suit but not before he’s fired a gun at them.  Later, at the flat Gary shares with his pothead friend, Tim (Bøckmann), Gary allows himself to be persuaded to feel better by smoking a joint, despite his initial resistance (his jail term was drugs related).  The next morning, Gary wakes up to find that Tim has taken a heroin overdose, and is close to death.  With the flat full of incriminating, drug-related paraphernalia, Gary can’t call the emergency services.  So…what can a tagged felon who happens to be dressed as a clown do to get himself out of such a predicament?

Clowne - scene

If you’ve seen Everywhen (2013), Herdal and moviemaking partner Jens Peder Hertzberg’s debut feature, then you may have wondered what they’d do next.  Well, wonder no more.  Clowne is the entirely unexpected answer, a short feature designed as a pilot for a potential television series.  It’s a bold move by the young filmmakers, and shows a growing confidence in their abilities.  As a director, Herdal displays a keen eye for composition and has an instinctive knowledge of where to put the camera, and with co-creator and director of photography Hertzberg, often chooses odd angles to heighten a scene or, on occasion, keep the viewer wrong-footed (a great example is the shot of a man in a bus shelter looking at a timetable, and then the camera pans left to reveal Gary with his clown face pressed against the glass).  Between them, Herdal and Hertzberg have come up with an offbeat visual style, and level of creativity, that belies their ages.

The script, also by Herdal, is inventive and irreverent in equal measure, the humour often laugh-out-loud funny, with a good mix of one-liners (“Jen, focus, I might get rabies here”), visual gags (Richard’s underpants, Tim’s new girlfriend), and the kind of crazy situations that only one of Life’s real unfortunates could find themselves in.  The characters, from poor put-upon Gary to conspiracy theorist Vitaly to Müller’s gay police officer, are clearly defined and, though sometimes prone to exaggerated personal traits, suit the material well.  Plau is great as Gary, his hangdog expression beneath the clown make up all the viewer needs to understand how he’s feeling.  He’s also more than adept at showing Gary’s more vulnerable, nice guy qualities (which go some way to explaining just how he ended up in jail in the first place).  It’s an assured performance, and Gary is all the more likeable because of it.  As Jen, Brekke proves more flaky than some of her patients, and Bøckmann invests Tim with the kind of naive tunnel vision that so many weed fiends exhibit.  Velle is a hoot as the passive-aggressive Richard, always apologising in a slightly whiny way, while Løfgren (in a role that would have been tailor-made for Alexei Sayle in his heyday), does paranoia with enough nervous energy to light several apartment blocks – and confirms what many of us have suspected about the Jonas Brothers for some time.

Inevitably, given that this is a pilot after all, none of the various plot strands are resolved, but as a self-contained short, Clowne succeeds in introducing us to a most unlikely “hero”.  At this stage the prospect of a series is one to look forward to, though a full-length feature might be the better option, but judged on its own merits, Clowne is an entertaining, often hilarious, black comedy that confirms the promise Herdal and Hertzberg showed with Everywhen.  There are some continuity issues: Gary’s red nose vanishes and reappears at will, often from shot to shot, and Tim’s car trails a vast amount of smoke when he’s the only one with a joint (it’s an easy visual gag, true, but still…).  And on the trivia front, fans of that movie may notice that its star, Harald Evjan Furuholmen, has moved behind the camera to serve as production designer and set decorator; perhaps he’s the one responsible for there being a 1931 Dracula poster in the supply cupboard.

Rating: 8/10 – an equally impressive follow-up to Everywhen, Clowne is a likeable, surreal treat of a movie; all that remains is for Herdal and Hertzberg to channel their considerable talents into making a spin off movie for Hunch Backed Man (Kolstad) – now that would be welcome.