Review: JJ+E is a remake of teen love story Vintervaken

JJ&E (MA, 93 minutes)

3 stars

When a film gets remade, it's intriguing for the quizzical questions it prompts. If the original worked well, why would it need a revision, whether it's good or indifferent? If it was worth making again, does it throw new light on the world we live in, the here and now?

A scene from JJ+E. Picture: Netflix

A scene from JJ+E. Picture: Netflix

The story of JJ+E, the love story of Swedish teenagers John John and Elisabeth, first appeared on the cinema screen 25 years ago in the film Vintervaken. John John was a boy of colour then, as he is in this new version, while Elisabeth is still the same kind of Scandinavian blonde.

This time round, Swedish actor Mustapha Aarab plays John John, a boy from the notorious social housing suburbs of Stockholm. Elsa Ohrn plays his Elisabeth, who's from the Bromma area, one of the most affluent in the city. When they meet as drama students she asks how many Elisabeths he knows. None, and that says so much.

Elisabeth is the uptown girl in the vast network of islands that is Stockholm, the Swedish capital. The family home she shares with her little sister, Patricia (Elsa Bergstrom Terent), and father Frank (Magnus Krepper) has an infinity pool where she can retreat when she wants to be on her own.

The girls' mother died recently and the house seems still and quiet, except for unwelcome visits from their glamorous but very unpleasant grandmother (Marika Lagercrantz).

Elisabeth's architect-designed contemporary home in Bromma is the kind of mansion that John John and his friends in the hood would never enter.

It's just that they are invited in after John John rescues Patricia from drowning, having seen her in difficulties while out on a joyride in a runabout stolen by Sluggo (Jonay Pineda Skallak).

John John is the son of a single mum whose current boyfriend Patrik (Albin Grenholm) deals drugs, while his bestie Sluggo is known to the police for break-and-enter.

The selective drama class where John John and Elisabeth connect seems plausible common ground.

Just how much this select learning opportunity meant to each of them isn't much explored, although there is an interesting scene in which the young pair are surrounded by John John's gang and quizzed about their acting ability.

Can JJ really act? Can E really act? Show us then, the group insists.

The film is strong in the first half but some subsequent moments are dramatically less satisfying.

The rave dance party in the pine forest is mesmeric but the techno music seems to infiltrate other scenes where it doesn't work so well. such as when John John declares his undying love for Elisabeth, and the scenes at drama school.

However, the scenes involving Sluggo and the gang where the potential for violence sits on a knife edge, are convincing in this young adult drama.

When Vintervaken, the book by Mats Wahl that inspired this screen romance, came out in the 1990s it had an impact on the director of JJ+E, Alexis Almstrom, who was then in his teens.

Vintervaken has since become set reading in Swedish schools, where its themes and ideas must have had a cultural impact.

Whether the writing by Dunja Vujovic and author Wahl and the direction by Almstrom have done a good job bringing the story forward into the 21st century is for Swedish audiences to decide.

There is a a lot more immigration into the country this century which is, no doubt, having a knock-on effect on local politics.

From the mid-20th century onwards, the notion of Swedish cinema has made people think blondes, nudity and a light censor's touch.

Films like Let The Right One In and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have left other impressions.

This feature is YA fiction and it has a taming influence on the above.

However, the backstory reflects current social issues and is a window on Swedish society.

There is no doubt that Elisabeth, a daughter of privilege, is an enigmatic character.

Her last scenes have a hint of Patty Hearst.

This story Teen love story gets a retelling first appeared on The Canberra Times.