Having spent years reading about film festivals but never attending any, I've always wondered about the inevitable great films that play yet somehow fail to muster crowd enthusiasm enough to push them into the movie nerd culture as must-sees. Flicker seems like it could end up being one of those films.
Not a lot about Flicker stands out. The plot isn't easy to explain. It doesn't center on one main character, nor does it have a striking figure it can at least pretend to be about. It is neither ambitious nor extreme. It's just good. Plain old good.
I fear that may not be enough to get this film the attention it deserves. Swedish director Patrik Eklund has put together a charming and sweet feature debut that manages to maintain healthy doses of indie quirk with none of the condescension, mean-spiritedness or pandering that often accompany these films. This is one of the good ones, capable of momentarily stripping pejorative connotations away from adjectives like "quirk" and "whimsy" and make them appealing again.
Much of Flicker takes place around a telecom company, Unicom, and the various people who work for it, whether in the office or out on the power lines. The company has its own problems, but they're repeatedly exasperated by an anarchist group trying to sabotage it. This plot synopsis represents a flawed, inverse view of what Flicker is actually about, but it's the only concentrated way to summarize the film. I could go through each character's story thread one by one, but that would really suck for everyone.
The best selling point for Flicker is actually Eklund's 2010 Academy Award nominated short "Instead of Abracadabra," which you can and should watch here. "Abracadabra" offers a way more obvious showcase for the director's clear talents. Watching it, you automatically want to see what Eklund will do next.
Flicker draws much less attention to itself. Comparing the two, it's almost as if Eklund has matured too fast for people to even glimpse what his original artistic persona entailed, like going from Bottle Rocket to The Royal Tenenbaums with no Rushmore in between. The cute cuts and comic timing of "Abracadabra" appear in Flicker, but it's rare and far more subtle. Both feature interesting casting choices relishing real faces rather than perfect actors in a way similar to what Jared Hess does but less jokey on the surface (actually, many of the actors seem almost like rental versions of Hollywood actors). The difference is that Eklund displays empathy for his characters in a way Hess rarely does. Even the villains in Flicker, if you can call them that, feel of a piece with the rest of the film's sweetness.
Humor runs through Flicker, but it's rarely laugh out loud funny (though there is one super great joke near the end that made me guffaw in surprise). "Abracadabra" probably has a better joke to time ratio, but that's once again because Eklund seems to have already moved beyond what he was up to with his short. Instead of exploring his palette with his first feature, he's already refining it into something totally different. Even if my fears about this film's chances for wide exposure prove true, it's only a matter of time before Eklund makes a feature the movie world finds impossible to ignore.