A Hustler’s Diary: When a gangster crashes a banquet
- One of the funniest films at this year’s Warsaw Film Festival deftly avoids clichés and manages to surprise at every turn
In A Hustler’s Diary [+see also:
film profile], which proved to be one of the funniest films at this year’s Warsaw Film Festival (where it screened in the Discoveries section), Croatian-born Swedish director-screenwriter Ivica Zubak tells the story of Metin (played by Can Demirtas, who is also credited with writing the script), the working-class son of Turkish immigrants who dabbles in petty crime, such as breaking and entering, stealing (mostly watches) and pawning them at the local shop. However, his dreams lie elsewhere, as he wants to forge an artistic career – namely, that of a dramatic actor. Alas, his audition at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts leaves a lot to be desired, and Metin’s acting career is regrettably over before it has even started. Luckily for him, however, without noticing, he drops a notebook in the audition hall containing precise and even poetic descriptions of his criminal activities, street brawls and physical attacks he’s launched on people who happen to have crossed his path in the “wrong” way, and Lena (played by Lena Endre), one of the professors at the academy, finds it and thinks it is a truly delightful read.
Of course, losing his notebook doesn’t seem particularly lucky to Metin at first – after all, it contains names, locations and other incriminating data. What’s more, the well-meaning professor quickly, and without consulting him, passes the notebook on to her friend Puma Andersson (Jörgen Thorsson), an editor at a posh, intellectual publishing house, and he is immediately excited about showing it to as many people as possible, and even publishing it. This is the trigger for some of the funniest scenes in A Hustler’s Diary, in which the poor, uneducated Metin, who hails from a conservative background, is thrown into the world of the liberal, haute-cuisine, intellectual elite, and finds their ways just as baffling as they find his.
Thankfully, A Hustler’s Diary stops short of stereotyping its characters and their milieus before they turn into caricatures. The film lets the audience have its fun with the unusual encounter between upper-class sensibilities and street brashness, but resumes its story quickly enough. The economic situation of Metin’s family, his upbringing and his life up until this point don’t just melt away because a seemingly naive publisher offers him a book deal – but nor does A Hustler’s Diary engage in the kind of fatality that would make it impossible for him to ever change anything in his life. It is not an easy balance to strike, but Ivica Zubak has successfully pulled it off.
A Hustler’s Diary is one of those rare films that manage to circumnavigate the audience’s expectations and surprise them several times in a row. It never stays exactly what we tend to think it is, or becomes what we fear it will: as soon as it begins to look decidedly like a screwball comedy, it veers sharply into the realm of the social drama; when it seems like it might be about to take itself too seriously, it smartly twists its narrative out of the clichéd traps that it has set for itself. Can Demirtas is a wonderful comic actor – without him, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine A Hustler’s Diary in the same way. And whether or not Zubak continues with his cinematic examinations of the lower classes of Swedish society, his films definitely seem to be ones to watch out for.
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