Koko-di Koko-da, the latest work from Swedish director Johannes Nyholm, tells a dark folklore tale set in contemporary Scandinavia, overdoing its constituting metaphor a little.
Under a Swedish sky, everything is bright and clear. Happy families raise happy children. There are beautiful holiday resorts where you can spend quality time with those whom you love dearly. Everything has been brought straight out of Fairyland, and even an ordinary medical incident such as mussels gone bad can be dealt with by wearing a big broad smile on your face. Under this terse, hallucinatory light nothing could go wrong. Until everything does.
And if we are familiar with the intimidating pictorial smoothness of Ruben Oestlund’s cinema, we can sense at once that in Koko-di Koko-da (2019), the second feature-length film by director Johannes Nyholm, things have gone sour. The film, which is premiering in London on October 4th and in New York on October 20th , tells the story of Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund), loving parents to a sweet-toothed blonde girl who daydreams of magic, princesses and enchanted worlds all day long.
Plunged in desperation after the sudden death of their child, who left behind a last unopened present, a much-desired music box, the two grown-ups suddenly feel they do not even know each other anymore. Three years later, in a desperate attempt to save their marriage and reconnect to each other, they head out to the woods on a camping holiday, during which they are visited by three homicidal, circus-like characters; the very same characters that were drawn on their daughter’s music box.
Intruding upon a dark realm of metaphors, symbols, and unspoken words, the camera speechlessly hovers over a stuck eternity of nightmares and obsessions – those which have been relentlessly haunting the minds and bodies of the characters since the fateful day. Just like a music box playing creepy nursery rhymes (which the title, Koko-di Koko-da, refers to), time keeps spinning on its axis for Elin and Tobias, weaving a cloud of overwhelming grief haunted by ghosts from the past around the estranged man and wife. The unfathomable sadistic violence of the circus freaks thus gives voice to the silent cruelty of two people whose only form of communication is blabbering unmeaningful piecemeal words to each other. As good old Willie Shakespeare keeps reminding us, there is something rotten in the state of Denmark; and that could be the case for Sweden too.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding its noble intentions, Nyholm’s film fails to lock the spectators in an emotional grip. Trudging its way through the film, the music box metaphor seems too self-conscious to be a good one – the director clearly states what is going on from the very beginning, and we end up not being upset by the evil “clowns” at all. Nyholm chooses to show the souls of his characters rather than hinting at their troubled seas of fear and grief – thus stressing his role as the commander-in-chief of the story. Real life is thus put second to the power of the creative mind and its fascination with popular myths and folklore: Elin and Tobias act in a certain way not out of spontaneity, but because they have been told to do so.
So it is not just the characters who cannot fight back the weight of their deeply-buried traumas; but Nyholm too, who sadly succumbs to his own imagination and backfires in trying to paint a truly powerful picture of how much hidden sorrow and despair one can find in the land of smiles, eco-friendly politicians, and decorated Princesstårtas. And if you are no expert in Swedish cuisine, don’t despair: marzipan cakes will do.
Koko-di Koko-da was screened at the London Film Festival on Friday, October 4, 2019, and premiered in New York on October 20 at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.
Currently available to rent and own on Prime Video in Europe, the film will be released in virtual theaters (US) on November 6, 2020: click here for tickets and info.