Beirut-born Fares's debut is a multi-cultural comedy hit that spawned a chart-topping album. Johan Åhlund reviews the work of the Swedish film industry's new wunderkind.
Jalla Jalla is an interesting comedy from Sweden's new wunderkind Josef Fares—a young and talented director. Only 25 years old, he belongs to the new generation of immigrants. Born in Beirut, Fares came to Sweden in 1987 and settled down with his family in the city of Örebro, northwest of Stockholm.
Although Jalla Jalla is his debut feature film, Fares is no rookie when it comes to handling the camera. Before this feature, he made over 50 short films, most of which were categorised as action or suspense. The special effects were homemade, so to speak, and these movies acquired a sort of cult status in Fares hometown, Örebro. Short films like Dicken (The Dick) and Slår du slår jag (If You Hit, I'll Hit) with Swedish soap opera actress Cecilia Bergqvist increased his popularity.
The short films gave him a reputation as a promising director and his films were shown at numerous film festivals, giving Fares recognition as well as some prizes. Later Fares started to work with the Swedish production house Memfis. The low-budget action thriller named Coola Killar (Cool Guys) was screened at the Gothenburg Film Festival in 2000 and received favourable reviews.
Jalla Jalla was made on a tight budget (approximately GBP 630,000), with Fares, who wrote the script as well as directing the film, using his friends and family as cast and crew. It was shot in only 30 days, mostly in Fares's hometown Örebro, but with some scenes shot in Gothenburg and Trollhättan (often called "Trollywood", due to the booming film industry there).
The film is a teen-comedy about Roro (played by the director's brother Fares Fares), a young man who works as a parking attendant—a job he is quite happy with, because he works with two of his best friends. At the same time, Roro is dating his Swedish girlfriend Lisa. Roro and Lisa are deeply in love and everything seems to be perfect. But Roro's parents are unaware that their son is dating a Swedish girl. They have decided that he must marry someone from his home country and have already picked out a suitable bride-to-be for him.
So Roro learns he is pledged to marry the beautiful Yasmin. They don't know each other and have absolutely nothing in common. Neither Yasmin or Roro is keen on marrying each other, so they decide to play along, telling their parents they will tie the knot soon, just to buy some time and think something out. Unfortunately, Roro's Swedish girlfriend Lisa meets Yasmin and is devastated when she thinks he has been cheating on her. Lisa's and Roro's relation is now doomed if he can't get his parents to understand his feelings. At work Roro tells his best mate Måns (a Swede) what is going on and Måns decides to confide his own problem to Roro. He tells Roro that he has suddenly become impotent and here begins a mission for both of them. Måns' girlfriend decides to leave him after some unsuccessful experiments with sexual toys and fantasies, and both our heroes sink into depression.
Jalla Jalla is very much about friendship and relations, and in line with the comedy ethos by the end of the film all the characters' problems are resolved happily.
The film critics in Sweden were overwhelmingly positive towards Jalla Jalla. It is a unique Swedish film, for it is not often that 82 minutes fly by when you are watching a Swedish feature comedy. The actors are very well matched to their personalities on the screen, and especially Torkel Petterson, who plays the frustrated Måns, is truly convincing. The main musical score, by soul and reggae musician Daniel Lemma, was a huge success in the Swedish charts. The film also contains music from other Swedish artists, such as Nine and The Hives.
The future for Josef Fares seems bright if he continues on this track. He will surely find it a little easier to get financial support for future projects now that he has proved his directing skills, which are straight-forward, natural and effective. Fares has now moved to Stockholm and is currently working on a new comedy with a larger budget and some of Sweden's most popular actors, along with his regulars Torkel Petterson and Fares Fares. This time Fares Fares and Petterson play two policemen in a small Swedish town. Josef Fares's father is also in the cast.
The 40-man crew has spent some time in the small town of Bäckefors shooting and the extras are mostly local residents. Unfortunately there is no name for this project yet but director Josef Fares says he is certain that the word "police" is in its title. Swedish film critics are expectantly awaiting 7 February 2003 when the new film has its premiere.
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