Directed by Lisa Langseth and starring personal favourite Alicia Vikander (of TIFF 2012’s gorgeous and tragic A Royal Affair), Hotell/Hotel is the story of how far repression can take you.
Alicia plays Erika, an interior designer who is a control-freak of the highest order. Erika and her husband Oskar are expecting their first child, and have it all planned out perfectly, right down to the C-section date. But life is unpredictable and when Erika’s labour comes early and with terrible complications she is left entirely unable to cope. Her response is to retreat into herself in the hope that if she just wishes hard enough she can find herself in a new life. At Oskar’s insistence she begins to visit a support group for victims of trauma, and it is there that she finds unexpected validation for her feelings.
While the group as a whole and their counselor agree that repression and fantasy are terrible coping mechanisms, four others are intrigued by Erika’s idea of mentally checking oneself into an emotional hotel and choosing who to exit as. With spur of the moment excitement they decide to make the concept literal and that night find themselves booked into an expensive hotel on Erika’s dime. Erika takes quiet pleasure in seeing her new friends come out of their shells and share their hopes and fears, but is still blocked from doing the same. In a moment of panic she begs them to stay longer, and after checking into a new place that’s when things really get rolling.
While the movie has many comedic elements it is a story of great sorrow and of how emotional pain can become physical if neglected. Even as her new support group finds ways of tapping into their hurts and moving beyond them Erika retreats further and further into herself and fantasy with disastrous results. The final act of the movie brings about a sense of comical dread as events spiral further out of control. The ensemble cast is strong, with each of the group’s members getting time to shine in their own quirky way. Erika tries to keep removed, but is eventually drawn to masochistic mama’s boy Rikard (David Dencik, Sweden’s answer to Bryan Cranston, and another A Royal Affair alum). Their adventure is the hardest to watch of all.
As the hotel stay lasts days and into a week it seems that none of them will ever want to return to the world. But real life creeps in and things begin crashing down spectacularly (and quite literally). In the end Erika is faced with the choice of whether or not to go back and I won’t spoil the answer for you. I will say that I am pleased that Langseth chooses not to wipe the slate clean for the characters, but I do have to wonder how they aren’t all in jail by the end.
The acting in Hotell was phenomenal. Vikander has one of the most quietly expressive faces I have ever seen on film, and Langesth plays her like an instrument, drawing out exactly the emotion needed scene to scene. This is not the first time that Langseth and Vikander have collaborated with great success. Pure helped to launch Vikander’s career and hopefully we will see more joint projects from them both. If you are looking for a sadly sweet film that is cathartic itself in a very real way then be sure to take this in.