“I feel like King Kong in New York,” says Ennio Midena (Stefan Sauk) to Simone Karlsson (Lena Nilsson) in Kristian A. Söderström’s Videoman (Videomannen), “I should have been extinct a long time ago.”
Ennio is a fish out of water in more ways than one. A ‘flat broke’ migrant who washed up on Sweden’s shores in 1980, he fell in love at first sight with VHS tapes – “fat, shiny boxes with animated boxes” – and was soon running the best video store in his adopted country. Now, in 2017, the ‘videoman’ of the title is an analogue guy in a digital world, separated from his wife and marooned in a dingy basement office whose rent he can no longer afford, where he painstakingly preserves an archive of old VHS tapes that nobody wants anymore, aside from a dwindling coterie of oddball collectors.
Simone, too, is stuck in the wrong era. Ever looking back to the Eighties of her heyday (and even further back to ancient Egypt), this divorcee is gradually losing both her office job and her own daughter to alcoholism. These two souls, lost in time, come together when Ennio answers her online ad offering an old box of videos for sale – and despite their differences, they keep being drawn back to one another’s shared sense of loneliness and obsolescence.
In that old, unloved box of videos there is something of real if unnoticed value: a rare, pristine copy of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) from the Video Invest series. Its very title encapsulates Ennio and Simone’s status as the walking dead in a world where they have become surplus to requirements – and the tape also becomes the MacGuffin that drives the plot of Videoman. For the mysterious dealer known as Faceless (Carolin Stoltz) is willing to pay Ennio a lot of Euros for Zombie – enough even to clear his debts and to help him start up a new video store (now that VHS is becoming trendy again with the hipster set). So when, just days before Faceless is due to pick it up, the tape goes missing, Ennio is sent on an increasingly desperate search for the VHS, and the vanished dreams that it represents.
Native Italian Ennio’s favourite genre is giallo, and his own experiences, filtered through excessive drinking and paranoia, start to resemble a shabbier, more mundane version of a stylised Italian thriller. For as he hangs out in his pink-and-blue-lit office necking bottles of J&B Scotch, as the messages he receives from the anonymous, gender-ambiguous Faceless – whose mask is the internet – become ever more aggressive and intimidating, and as shadowy figures tail Ennio in the dark, Videoman assumes a metacinematic aspect.
In one sequence, Ennio is shown engaging in the age-old debate over whether Suspiria is a giallo or not. The same question might be asked of this retro-hued feature, which certainly speaks the language of Ennio’s beloved Italian genre, but uses it ultimately to express our bittersweet romance with cinema’s dinosaurs. It is all at once a wryly funny, bleakly melancholic film whose two principal characters are, in more ways than one, accidentally dating.
Videoman was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.