Percy, Buffalo Bill och jag
Sweden / Denmark, 2005
Review by Tom Huddleston
Posted on 25 October 2006
Source Nordisk Film 35mm print
Features: The Times BFI 50th London Film Festival
There are films for children, and there are films about children, but surprisingly few great films which manage to be both. Just as the average serious filmgoer tends to turn his nose up at Home Alone and Harry Potter, it’s equally hard to imagine an audience of 9 year olds making it all the way through, say, Les Quatre Cents Coups or Lawn Dogs, despite the subject matter. The London Film Festival brochure advertises Percy, Buffalo Bill & I as family-friendly fare, but judging from the chorus of rustling, fidgeting and general restlessness which accompanied the screening I attended, this one falls squarely in the latter camp.
And it’s not just the children who were restless. The narrative moves at an achingly ponderous pace, following 10 year old Ulf as he travels with his family to their grandparents’ remote cottage on the lake. The old couple welcome them in, but it soon becomes clear that they have their own problems—this is a loveless marriage, and Ulf’s grandfather takes out his frustration on anyone who comes too close. The relative peace of the summer holiday is shattered when Ulf’s cheeky, charismatic best friend and ‘blood brother’ Percy arrives from the City, much to the disquiet of the family, and eventually Ulf himself—they soon vie for the affections of local girl Pia.
There is almost nothing to recommend in Percy, Buffalo Bill & I. The film crawls along, packing less into its 83 minutes than most short films manage in 10. The humour is crude even for a kids’ film, and mostly concerns farting. The characters are thin, either clichéd and over-familiar, like the irascible grandfather (listed only as ‘Farfar’), or vague and underused, like the rest of Ulf’s family. Unsurprisingly, Percy is the only one with any spark, likeably played by Daniel Bragderyd—his arrival in town promises to add much needed life to the film, a promise which remains maddeningly unfulfilled. The frustration lies in the fact that there are some promising characters here, from put upon bug collector Klasse to the pretty but strangely joyless Pia, a heartbreaker in waiting. But director Gustafsson and writer Ulf Stark do as little as they can with the material: this is lazy, bare-bones filmmaking.
A touch of magic-realism is injected in an attempt to liven proceedings—Percy tames the untameable horse, and Ulf rides him proudly, in probably the film’s finest sequence. There’s an ongoing metaphor in the character of Buffalo Bill—a man whose charm and beauty Ulf’s grandfather has always longed to emulate. But such subtleties will be lost on a pre-teen audience, most of whom will simply be bored to tears by the scenes between the old couple, staring rheumily at one another, regretting the lost years. The final act, in which Farfar retains his spark and takes the boys out to play cowboys, could really have been something special, if attention had only been paid to the characters—we just don’t care what happens to anyone here. The script was adapted from Stark’s own autobiographical novel (note that the lead character bears his name), but he consistently fails to interest us in this obviously personal story.
Perhaps it’s the fault of the subtitling, or simply a matter of cultural translation, but Percy, Buffalo Bill & I is, in the final analysis, simply dull. Even the spectacular lakeside landscape is monotonously photographed—there are no hazy summer evenings, no golden light, it’s all green and grey. When a cataclysmic thunderstorm hits, the entire sequence takes place indoors—we don’t even see the fateful lightning bolt that strikes Farfar. This kind of wilful avoidance of anything approaching tension or excitement renders the film a uniquely bland and stultifying experience. Even for adults.