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The Independent Critic

Mikael Ayele, Sonjya Ghaderi, Anders Horbo, Anya Tkachenco, Jores Sinani, Ida-Maria Lundstrom, Gunilla Willis
J. Erik Reese
J. Erik Reese, Daniel J. Carmody
70 Mins.

 "Train to Stockholm" Review 
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20-year-old Jonas (Mikael Ayele) has returned to his place of birth in Sweden to begin a year-long exchange program at the history University of Uppsala. Half-Swedish and fluent in the language, Jonas is convinced that in this city known for its vibrant diversity that he will gain acceptance. Things are looking positive when he meets Em (Sonja Ghaderi), whom he charms into joining him on several romantic adventures about the town. However, eventually Jonas begins to experience clashing cultures, deceitful intentions and even life-threatening encounters that force him to face the reality that he is an outsider in his native country. When Em reveals a painful truth, Jonas must make a choice that will lead him towards an even greater understanding of life.

Co-written and directed by J. Erik Reese, Train to Stockholm has a feeling of simplicity and authenticity from start to finish that begins with its setting in the actual Swedish cities of Stockholm and Uppsala and ends with its origins within the personal experiences of Reese. Reese, working through the increasingly impressive Sabi Company, has created a film that exudes the lessons he's learned in his own life communicated in a way that is universal. Reese himself summed up the film's intent quite nicely when first introducing it to The Independent Critic by stating that "Train to Stockholm speaks to anyone who has ever tried to gain a sense of belonging without compromising their identity."

Indeed, it does.

More personal and experiential than necessarily a cohesive, story-driven film, Train to Stockholm beautifully illustrates one young man's personal journal of maturation and sense of belonging within himself and within the community that surrounds him. The film starts off stubbornly, even awkwardly, as we come almost face-to-face at times with these two people who may or may not connect but who both bring their past experiences and their genetic make-up into the picture. Mikael Ayele gives a strong performance as Jonas, both brimming with swagger and, at times, aching with that painful insecurity that comes with feeling out of place no matter where you go.

Sonja Ghaderi is equally strong, at times coming off much like Marketa Irglova's revelatory performance in the indie gem Once. While this film is most certainly not a music, it is a film about personal journeys and human connections. It is also filled with absolutely spot on perfect music from Herman Witkam, whose music weaves itself together with Kevin K. Shah's sound design to create that rare independent feature that sounds incredibly sublime. As is seemingly always true of a Sabi film, the film's camera work is also nothing short of spectacular.  It was rather astounding to discover that Train to Stockholm was filmed on a budget under $1,000, a fact that proves once again that talent, hardwork, awesome friends and creativity are priceless when it comes to quality filmmaking.

The recently completed Train to Stockholm has already received the 2012 Royal Reel Award from the Canada International Film Festival as it begins its festival journey. Fans of introspective, insightful indie cinema would do well to check out this film if it arrives in your neighborhood. For more information about the film, visit the Sabi Company website linked in the credits.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic