Saturday, April 17, 2010

Schpaaa. (1998) Erik Poppe

Schpaaa, otherwise known by its international title, Bunch of Five, is the first film in Erik Poppe's "Oslo Trilogy."

Like Bergman's En filmtrilogi, in which the master filmmaker decided to unite the three sometime during the second movie's pre-production, the "Oslo Trilogy" feels like it was conceived well after Schpaaa's original reception -- perhaps even after financing for further films came in.

The story concerns five boys between the ages of 11-14 who are ganged together in a series of criminal sprees around East Oslo. Together they skip school, rob stores, bully children, run drugs, fight, and receive frequent beatings themselves.

The intro and ending scenes are narrated by fourteen year old Jonas. Born and raised in Oslo, Jonas is living with his mother and has never met his dad. He claims from the beginning that his best friend Emir, an abused Yugoslavian immigrant teen showing signs of carrying on the family tradition, scares him -- that he's prone to violence, that he might make Jonas's life a "living hell."

Jonas and Emir and three other friends are hired by Emir's uncle to do two things: deliver drugs to a "big shot," and beat up a junkie who owes money. The kids carry off their mission without a hitch. They celebrate in a local convenience store, buying Twinkies and comic books in relief. The only problem, classic in drug stories, is that the kids have gotten the two men confused -- they've jumped and pummeled the wrong man (the "big shot"), and given heroin to a junkie who will no doubt consume every last bit.

They're in a position now that's too much for them to handle, even as thuggish street smart kids who've been put through the ringer already. They've been a family unit which to this point which have depended on one another -- but with a seeming noose around their necks, relations strain, loyalties crumble, and the finger pointing starts. The knowledge that they'll be dead soon or spend a very long life behind bars etches its way into the crevice of their thoughts. Panic, blame, and more beatings ensue. There's nothing good in the future for any in this bunch of five.

Rife with late 90s drum and bass filler and dated electronic synth music, Schpaaa already comes off as a bit outdated. It feels like it was made for Norwegian TV, directly opposite of the emotional feel and production value of the two profound films that follow. Like those two, there are ways in which Schpaaa contains elements of the relational power of a restored family unit, but it ultimately wears the viewer down and wears itself out with its beaten up kids and a narrative that burns out.

The shortest of the three films, clocking in at only 73 minutes, Schpaaa is an awkward launching pad for the trilogy. It's nowhere near as cinematically packed as the following Hawaii, Oslo or Troubled Water, and a DVD copy is quite hard to track down. The only way to obtain it anymore is to find a used copy on eBay. Trilogy purists might long to see it in order to view the three as a whole, but it's just as easy to skip Schpaaa altogether and find the real deal in the following films. My next two posts will discuss those inspirational gems in-depth.


  1. I fail to understand why you criticise a film for not having a high enough budget. It is not the amount of money spent that matters, but how it is spent.

    This film feels exactly like the 90s. It is extremely realistic and portrays a true so why should it not feel a little dated 12 years later?

    Also I cannot understand why you recommend people not to watch this movie. It shows the brutal dark underbelly of Oslo and compliments the other two films well - even though it admittedly is very different.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Jens!

    You're asking about a film that I wrote about two-and-a-half years ago, so it's very hard to address your concerns. I'm not certain it matters very much, however, as this film is still impossible for most Americans to track down, and very few will even try unless, as I mentioned above, they are trilogy purists.

    My comments, in retrospect, are hazy to consider because to be honest, I cannot remember the film all that much. But I guess that supports my main point: I do find "Schpaaa" somewhat forgettable in the grand scheme of things. The following two films, however, are a HUGE crescendo. "Hawaii, Oslo" is a fantastic film, and "Troubled Water," in my opinion, is very close to a masterpiece. I hope you also took the time to see my comments on those two fine films as well.


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