Review: Diorama (2022), on Netflix

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There’s a no-nonsense relationship drama tucked away somewhere in Diorama, the new movie from Swedish actress and filmmaker Tuva Novotny streaming on Netflix. Her 2018 film Blindspot tackled the difficult subject of mental illness through the lens of a mother and daughter. Here, in Diorama, the director attempts a playful and wild dissection of monogamous relationships in the modern age. Even if the premise sounds promising, Diorama is undone by its own stubbornness not to let things play out on their own. Instead, Novotny makes grand claims about love and identity through a series of comparisons to the animal kingdom. Wait for it… we have these sequences, of men and women dressed as animals!

Diaroma begins with an extended sequence that spans the length of human history and how romance and relationships have changed over time. Narrated in a goofy voiceover, it sets the tone a bit too lenient early on. When we meet the main couple Frida (Pia Tjeltja) and Björn (David Dencik), they can barely keep their hands off each other. They are madly in love with each other and excited to share their lives together. There is passion and euphoria. Cut to a decade later, with three kids and a full-time job to pay the bills, the fire that once kept their relationship alive is now palpably gone.

Frida and Björn have different ways of facing life and daily routine. When they’re not fatigued from the day’s work, they start talking and it makes a difference. There is a touching sequence at the beginning of Diaroma when they both wonder if they are happy with the life they lead. She asks him if he misses the life they had before, not being single, but “free”. She shrugs “don’t complicate things unnecessarily” and takes a break. That’s exactly what she can’t do: escape from life for a couple of days and then come back, instead of fixing some aspect of the current life. When they actually take a break, it turns out to be a disaster.

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Diorama (2022) Netflix Review

These scenes that tell us so much about the characters are written and acted with such sensitivity and honesty that you wonder what went wrong with the rest of the movie. The inclusion of the dioramas in the middle makes matters worse, with an increasingly vexing attention to the scientific facts about sexual desire. How does it help? The tendency to spice things up by including these actors dressed as animals tends to kill the intensity that real drama brings.

It’s not funny, quite the opposite. Much would have gone to the diorama if it had focused more on the protagonists and their struggles than on painting bits of their plots and pasting them with colorful costumes of men and women dressed as wild animals. Worse yet, animal sex is one hell of a creep. The situational humor adds nothing substantial to the narrative. I kept wishing I could spend more time with Frida and Björn so that Diaroma would feel much more complete. But there are so many things that Diaroma wants to tackle, that he turns out to be undone in the process.

Diorama is the classic case of a premise that sounds interesting on paper but doesn’t translate to the screen. This is mainly because the director is constantly trying to elevate the material to make it more interesting as a whole. Tonal changes don’t sit well with the narrative. This belies a lack of confidence in the story itself, which could have become a bittersweet portrait of modern parenting. The performances, particularly from Tjeltja, elevate the film as much as they can.

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Novotny certainly tries to experiment with the genre with a dash of humor and scientific details about monogamy, but this results in a tedious and uneven film that feels too long even for its 100-minute running time. In the end, it becomes a completely different movie, not knowing where it started. The chaotic energy overwhelms and exhausts you to such an extent that you no longer care what happens with your partner. Even if Diaroma wants us to care about the people he shows, the movie itself doesn’t care about them in the first place.

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Diorama (2022) Movie Trailer

Diorama (2022) Movie Links – IMDb
Diorama Movie Cast (2022): Claes Bang, David Dencik, Gustav Lindh, Sverrir Gudnason
Where to see Diorama

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