“Illusive Tracks’ steered by crazy conductor

The film showing at the Oak Street Cinema gives big belly laughs and a bit of social commentary

Don M. Burrows

Although laden with slapstick and comedic characters, “Illusive Tracks” ultimately is about reversals ” about the sharp turns the train of life can take despite being on tracks.

Peter Dalle’s 2003 Swedish comedy is a cinematic bait-and-switch set in winter 1945 on a train from Sweden to Berlin. Shot entirely in black and white, except for a final hilarious scene, the film hides the year of its release with a convincing, classic 1940s feel.

But confusion about whether this film is contemporary vanishes as soon as the train leaves the station. Author Gunnar Wern (played by Gustav Hammarsten) interacts with a gay couple and Catholic nuns disrespected in a way only a present-day northern European film could.

One of the main plotlines is itself a joke about European history and the continent’s emerging identity: Gunnar enthusiastically tells his fellow passengers that he’s on his way to Berlin, just after the end of the war, to make a difference. “Imagine being present at the birth of a united Europe!” This idealistic expectation, like others in the film, is dashed amusingly in the film’s final scene.

Dalle repeatedly plays off these same themes, setting up concrete characters and then shattering their stereotypes. Thus, we have a gay man who hates his lover and is as equally man-hating as he is woman-hating.

His mistreated partner, Pompe, is the nervous, crying effeminate 1940s stereotype. But he turns poignant when asked why he puts up with his partner’s abuse: “A shared hell is, at any rate, better than one alone.”

The film is conducted by a plot that a doctor and his lover have devised to kill his wife, who is on the train. The lover seems inept and doe-eyed, the wife well-meaning and innocent. But, as usual, the ending holds some surprises.

Dalle uses ’40s slapstick in this moment and others in a bigger way ” to underline his main point.

A soldier, who by the end has been repeatedly broken and burned, laughs off his injuries and even the news that he’s on the wrong train, heading in the direction opposite his destination.

His amused attitude about life gone wrong ” when Europe’s life was about to take a 50-year, divisive detour that has only now reached unity ” is the film’s main lesson, echoed in the first words the audience reads onscreen:

“Nothing is necessarily what it appears to be.”