(Sweden 2002; Dir: Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, Ola Simonsson)

Hotel Rienne

Same as it ever was

review by Laurence Boyce

Hotel Rienne

length: 27

year of production: 2002

country of production: Sweden

director: Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, Ola Simonsson

production: Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, Ola Simonsson

director of photography: Charlotta Tengroth

editing: Johannes Stjärne Nilsson

cast: Pelle Öhlund, Paula McManus, Anders Carlsson, Richard Turpin, Sanna Persson, Anders Jansson, Benjamin Peetre, Hans Hansson

festivals: Brest European Short Film Festival 2002, Uppsala Short Film Festival 2005, Leuven International Short Film Festival 2007

© images: Hotel Rienne (Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, Ola Simonsson)

It’s been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. If that’s true then — as this is being written a few months into the Covid-19 crisis – we better be gearing up for one hell of a laugh. The perception of time is something that has been particularly put into sharp relief during Corona, and for many, the days are like wading through treacle as people wait for the world to change. Whilst ‘Hotel Rienne’, originally made in 2002, is a wryly humorous deconstruction of the ennui of modern life, its central tenet of ‘time being somehow out of sync’ seems uncomfortably analogous to the present day.

Henry needs to get to the office on time as he has an important presentation to make to the board of directors. A well-worn morning routine, a familiar tram ride and the usual elevator to the office. A normal day in the life of a person who spends his time running on the hamster wheel of capitalist conformity.

But Henry will notice that his day is a bit different. Things start to feel slightly off. Events seem to be repeating themselves. Incongruous moments seem to run concurrently. Time has fallen out of its tracks, but even though Henry knows that he’s been here before, there doesn’t seem to be that much he can do about anything. But who is this mysterious man with an invitation? And what delights will the Hotel Rienne have to offer?

Whilst there’s an undoubted tinge of sci-fi and fantasy here (with certain narrative and tonal similarities with Ivan Reitman’s ‘Groundhog Day’), Johannes Stjärne Nilsson & Ola Simonsson’s is more a clever slice of Nordic existentialism. Here, Henry is disturbed by his fractured timeline, scared by the constant repetition of the events of his life. The inherent irony here is that this is what has been happening to Henry for most of his adult life – the hiccups in his linear reality only serve to highlight the fact.

The film indulges in a beige and workmanlike aesthetic reflecting the drab life of Henry, as his office and the outside world all ripple with the grey of mundanity. It’s only a mysterious girl swathed in red that promises a hope of another life for Henry and a chance of – if not escaping his predicament – becoming more appreciative of the time that he has available to him. Nilsson and Simonsson also cannily play with the film’s temporal trappings – a tram that seems out of the 70s here, a hotel that comes straight from the 30s there. It adds an air of timelessness that provides an ironic juxtaposition to the rest of the film.

Unsurprisingly, the film also has a few moments of technical sleight of hand with jump cuts and repeated shots galore. More canny audience members will begin looking out for significant moments — a clock, someone dropping their papers – that will become a touchstone of recognition for later on. Indeed, ‘Hotel Rienne’ can also be seen as treatise on the nature of cinema itself in its manipulation of both time and the audience.

While ‘Hotel Rienne’ may not hit the all the profound notes it strives for, there’s a certain exhilaration here in its exploration of modern life and it’s opaque ending that offers a glimmer of hope for living with the time we have. And a glimmer of hope is what many people need at this moment in time.

'Hotel Rienne' was elected the Audience Favourite during the sixth week of My Darling Quarantine Short Film Festival.