TIFF 2023 | Shame on Dry Land (Axel Petersén, Sweden) — Platform

By Adam Nayman

Everybody knows somebody like Dimman (Joel Spira), the harried, hapless huckster at the center of the Swedish thriller Shame on Dry Land. The trick, if you want to hold on to your friendship—or your money—is to not get to know him too well. Climbing ashore into the stultifying climes of Malta after a long spell at sea, he greets his old pal-slash-mark Fredrik (Christopher Wagelin) with the guilty humility of a confidence man suddenly running on empty. It’s one thing to take a guy for all he’s worth, and another to have nothing left to show for it.

Dimma’s also a wedding crasher; Fredrik is getting hitched, and it seems to be a simple matter of stalwart Scandinavian tolerance that he doesn’t throw the unwelcome guest out on his ear. “How many Swedes does it take to sink this island?” jokes one hotel goer, gesturing, however, unintentionally towards Dimman’s destructive capabilities. But there are larger forces at work here, and quickly, the question of whether or not this once and future swindler will be forgiven starts to dissipate in a haze of sweaty, sleazy B-movie intrigue. Kudos to Petersén for keeping his plot pistons pumping lubriciously while scoring sneaky sociological points off of his backdrop’s pronounced cultural and economic inequalities. Without ever letting his ethically characters off the hook, he vividly depicts a fallen world of bourgeois exiles and online gaming addicts—all prisoners of their own device, searching in vain for passage back to the place they were before.  

anayman@cinema-scope.com Nayman Adam