Credit: FIDMarseille
by Morris Yang Featured Film

XXL — Kim Ekberg, Sawandi Groskind [FIDMarseille ’24 Review]

July 1, 2024

Enzo (Georgios Giokotos) and Magda (Astrid Drettner) are brother and sister, but they don’t always get along, and their rocky relationship has had its share of strung-out silences. Passing them on the street, without context, one might assume they were a quirky if plausible enough pair: he a plump, mustachioed Greek with soulful eyes, and she a lithe and perpetually sullen Nordic sporting a ruffled bob. More than an archetype of indie cosmopolitanism, however, the couple exemplify the broader aesthetic proclivities and constraints of XXL, jointly shot and conceived by directors Kim Ekberg and Sawandi Groskind. Interestingly, Ekberg is Swedish and Groskind is Finnish, and so their film — the background of whose protagonists we’re not quite made privy to, save for a few introductory scenes of Scandinavian conviviality — takes place on a ferry ride from Sweden to Helsinki, where Magda is to audition for a play.

Much of XXL is uneventful, and this is by design. With no little irony, the film counteracts its outsized title by undercutting the weight of its many tonal ventures. Part city symphony, part observational docudrama, and mostly a lightweight travel diary, Ekberg and Groskind’s first feature together folds in on itself, charming perhaps in its whimsicality but offering too slight a vivisection of anything in particular: millennial malaise, financial precarity, even urban and ethnic assimilation. Its panoramic segments, particularly of life in Helsinki, posit a blissful unity in the quotidian, whereas its close-ups of brother and sister, at night and alone in their hotel room, underscore the quiet difference in their characters. She pores through the pages of her script; he gazes wistfully at the television — playing William Wyler’s The Heiress — and makes a long-distance call to his former summer camp counselor. The long weekend, over which they hang out and tenuously attempt to reconnect, flies by on a diet of cafés, museum trips, and brief encounters with friends and strangers alike.

There’s a case to be made for the film’s carefree ways, forgoing structure in favor of an atmospheric and vibe-heavy pastiche of Éric Rohmer and Aki Kaurismäki, in that XXL aims to chronicle creative subjectivity over categorical formalism. Remembering and thus highlighting the specificities of memory and sensation, for instance, serves to immortalize them, a point not overlooked by the film’s intimate use of 35mm stock. Ultimately, though, the limits of pastiche don’t quite gel with the labors of its premise inasmuch as the subject of reconciliation is diminished and wrought into cute curiosity. Hints of Enzo’s overprotective or even controlling demeanor are mentioned in passing and forgotten, and his shared ruminations on life with Magda and their company come off often as generic faux existentialism. The film’s foray into surrealism in the final act, while gorgeously framed and lensed, is an affair too abrupt and contrived for whatever metaphor it holds to land. And this, to Ekberg and Groskind’s credit, may be all they’re looking for: there are, indeed, pleasures to be found in the picturesque and skin-deep.

Published as part of FIDMarseille 2024 — Dispatch 1.