A Little Musical Cathartic Conversation…
After a musician moves into a flat, he breaks up with his girlfriend and gets some comfort from an unexpected source.
NOTES Trailer, Jimmy Olsson
Although I live practically next door to Sweden, here in Finland, surprisingly I haven’t seen many films in either language. Although I am currently hooked on telly’s Au Pairit (2014-), a Finnish language show telling of mainly young teenage girls (with only a few token boys) who work as au pairs as they head abroad to Drama (usually with a capital D), fun and men. But that post and those of my other Finnish telly favourites are for another day.
As for Sweden, we do get subtitles for both languages at the cinema when watching the latest English speaking blockbuster. This admittedly confused me at first as I thought Finnish was a superlong language. So I was excited when Jimmy Olsson, the Swedish filmmaker contacted me recently. Olsson asked if I would review his new Swedish speaking short film, Notes (2021) which came with English subtitles.
Olsson is a screenwriter, producer and director with thirteen writing credits and twelve directing credits to date. He has received a massive 25 awards and 32 nominations so far, for his works including the much acclaimed Alive (2020), Repressed (2011) and 2nd Class (2018). Olsson in his bio on IMDB states he writes drama and comedy and when writing that;
he likes to study and listen to people around him, capture the reality and give it a funny twist.
Olsson directed, produced and wrote this film, Notes, which is one of his more recent film shorts. Philip Oros stars in the protagonist role and simply known as “the man”. This cast also includes Richard Sseruwagi as the “neighbour” in a small but pivotal role. These characters will be referred to as the “man” and “neighbour” in this review.
Notes tells of a man (Philip Oros) who after a water leak at his home is given emergency accommodation with everything included, apart from a telly. As he moves in, as the flat rental agent shows him around, she warns him that the walls are paper thin. She notices he’s a musician, and he says he plays the electronic piano.
After she leaves, the man calls his girlfriend on his mobile. It seems things are a bit strained between them. But he tells her of a surprise that he is planning for her birthday. After the call, he hears his neighbour playing the piano. It’s a lovely friendly and welcoming tune. After he listens to this music, the man leaves a note for his neighbour.
Later the man plays the piano and when he has difficulties composing the tune, he hears more music coming from his neighbour at the other side of the wall. This music complements beautifully to his own and again it is felt in a warm friendly manner. He leaves another note for his neighbour (Richard Sseruwagi). After texting his girlfriend, the man goes to sleep.
One day, the man is due to go out for dinner with a work client. As he irons a shirt to go out for this, he phones his girlfriend. During their phone call, things go from bad to worse. His girlfriend breaks up with him as she’s seeing someone else. She won’t talk to him, or answer the questions that he needs answers to. After talking to her he takes his anger out with the iron. He cries alone in the dark and empty flat.
Soothing and comforting music comes from the apartment next door. This music is heard again the next day, and the man shuts the door. The man won’t listen to his neighbour’s supportive music from his ears and he drowns it out with a pillow. A day later, it’s a more entertaining piece played by his neighbour that he hears, and the man smiles. His neighbour then leaves a note for him… the rest of this short but sweet film can be seen in the usual ways.
This film told its plot in a wonderfully creative and simple way with minimal joint scenes, use of phone calls and music. The music left a profound mark on the storytelling as through their shared musical “conversations”. This man connected with his neighbour without the need for words. His thoughts and feelings were felt and expressed in his compositions.
These were then echoed in his neighbour’s replies, as the man’s music became more cathartic in a manner as the film progressed. The conversations with this man’s girlfriend used to outline the plot, which then inspired his musical responses.
A musical “conversation” in the use of music is often seen in film or television as the musical score accompanying a scene echoes the plot, feeling or scene. But in this film, the music used was effective with minimal action, without words or an accompanying montage. The emotive and stirring film score was wonderfully chosen from familiar composers – listed in the credits – Beethoven, Bach, Chopin and more.
Other music used in the musical score was composed by Fraser Campbell Campbell. Campbell Campbell beautifully captured this film plot and the feelings of the protagonist and those reflected by his neighbour. He has only one additional credit for Big Party on the Other Side (2017). Credit must also go to Oros, for his strong performance. On watching his character’s heartbreak, I felt this was a natural, raw and moving performance.
In the script, this music was innovatively used and his neighbour’s musical support was fully felt in the music selected for his “reply” and support. This is particularly heard in the “musical” conversation which has the man’s neighbour reply by repeating notes similar to how a counsellor or friend would reflect words to learn more about a situation. This leads to the man releasing his feelings in his highly expressive music. The non-spoken language of the music used in this script which has fewer words is understood, whatever your native language.
The loneliness of the protagonist was felt in film scenes showing his isolation. These seen as the man moved alone around the flat and in shots of him alone with his thoughts at night. The music of his neighbour was felt echoing around this man’s space offering his friendship. Then tentatively offering humour and support and providing comfort like a warm hug in later scenes where a conversation between them is heard by using music only.
The small case was certainly a case of less is more. Any more than those few characters seen and heard would make it feel like a crowd. It was also a perfect 20 minutes long, and again it’s a case of quality over quantity. This film conveys more in this time on supportive male friendships than some blockbuster films do in a full length feature.
It seems once again that Olsson has created a short, original and succinct piece of work in this well played – both verbally and non verbally – drama with a wee touch of comedy. And I’m hoping that Olsson will be given the praise, that he rightly deserves from audiences and critics for this film, where he lets his characters fingers do the talking.
A disclaimer and personal thank you to Jimmy Olsson for asking me to write this post. Financial compensation was not received for this post. However, I received a copy of this film in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed here are my own. I would also like to add that Jimmy Olssen kindly provided these stills and this trailer and personally agreed to me using these in my blog. If you are involved in the entertainment industry and would like to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.