Sensing life: The Man from Jupiter March 22, 2012

by Terje Toomistu

Erik Strömdahl made a film. Submitted it to the Worldfilm festival sometime back in October and remained waiting. In the meantime, totally unexpectedly, the film itself came to life. More precisely, the initial symmetry of the film was thrown off balance when all of a sudden a death entered the scene. Erik Strömdahl unpacked his film files and added to the footage some slightly blurry frames, shot with his mobile, documenting the events, and adjusted the previous cut. So the film that initially was about the life of a man and the changes the film making brought about to his life became the life history of that man: with its beginning, a retrospective part establishing the background, mapping of the changes brought about by the filmmaking, and the following part, the seemingly almost unfair ending. The final ending. Strömdahl film became a history of a man, the story of his life.

Thus, Erik Strömdahl gave the festival crew - just a day before the screening - the new version of the film that had been thoroughly revised in the light of these new events. I do not think that the initial version of the film would have been any weaker than the final one we saw. However, the natural cycle of life added additional dimension of reality to the documentary. The protagonist, Hans-Erik, who had lived 45 years in his detached bubble, is a real flesh and blood human being and his life ended just here and now, with and in this film.

Erik Strömdahl, a Swedish filmmaker, visited and observed Hans-Erik, spending his days in voluntary solitary confinement behind the barred windows after deciding at the age of 16 that he does not want to have any friends. He was born with an injury which turned him into a target of derision among his peers. And not just his peers. Also his own father denied a lot of humanity in his son born with a heart condition. He destroyed the very qualities in him that add the glimmer and warmth to our day to day lives – I mean passion, intimacy, love – and Hans Erik was 61 years old when he embraced a woman for the very first time. It happened when Strömdahl included a student into the film team, who incidentally happened to be a woman.

During the filming the team grew by another woman. All of them together took a day trip to the Tivoli amusement park in Denmark; after that tour one can sense the changes Hans Erik has gone through to be almost tangible. And suddenly the film team is transformed into a panel of personal psychotherapists for Hans Erik. No longer is Hans Erik compelled to keep a lead weight over the lid of his toilet to keep the mythical voles at bay. He makes a decision to start to play guitar again and urges his new (his first ever) friends to go on a cruise to Helsinki. He is able to feel personal intimacy with the women in the film crew. He senses life and being alive.

The changes so clearly highlighted in Hans-Erik are creating questions – whether just the attention received from bystanders is able to bring about such great transformations? And how many people among us, right here right now with us and yet isolated, sheltered, alone, like he is, are there? Are family connections really all that important?

No doubt this film could be construed as a critique of the modern world, often dubbed the welfare society. Where, amongst all the support, looking after the welfare of a friend, neighbour, our own flesh and blood is forgotten because, for one reason or another they do not conform with the standards of this welfare society for one reason or another.