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By KJ Doughton | July 16, 2001

Another thriller that takes itself far more seriously is the intense Swedish film, Before the Storm. Directed by Reza Parsa, this surprising and emotionally involving picture follows the plight of Ali (Per Graffman), an Arab immigrant making a home in Sweden, where he raises two daughters with a loving wife, and supports the happy clan as a cab driver. One day, a mysterious stranger from Ali’s homeland forces herself into his domesticated life, demanding that he carry out an assassination.
We’re soon tuned in to the harsh political climate gripping both countries. The camera passes a poster early on that reads, “Stop the Madness,” and illustrates a silo of menacing nuclear missiles. And as the dark-eyed, female stranger blackmails Ali into attempting the murder, she explains that the target is a Swedish rocket contractor whose exportation of nuclear warheads into the Middle East threatens widespread annihilation. The woman also dangles an especially effective bait in front of Ali, to motivate his decision.
Through the persistent, threatening woman, we learn that the cabby was once a “Captain” in his homeland, active in dissident, rebel activity, who left a previous wife behind during his transition to Sweden. From a gritty videotape provided by the woman, Ali listens to pleas from the Arab wife, held captive by terrorists, and views his first images of a son born after he fled the country. In no uncertain terms, the blackmailer tells Ali that these loved ones – remnants of his hidden past life – will be executed if he refuses to carry out the mission. “You have two families,” she reminds him, ominously. “If you say no, there will be only one left.”
While Ali ponders what to do, another character is introduced into this world of touch choices. Leo (Emil Odepark) is a troubled youth whose school routine is one big obstacle course, as the preadolescent runs from Danne (Martin Wallstrom), a local bully. Ultimately, Leo ponders killing his tormentor, after being forced to strip naked and wander into a packed girls’ locker room. This act of ultimate humiliation sees the embarrassed lad brandishing his policewoman mom’s pistol, confronting Danne in the woods, and shooting the oppressor. Leo’s pulling of the trigger is more a result of fear and anxiety than any true bloodlust, however, and he wanders through the next few days with an invisible backpack of guilt strapped to his shoulders while Danne lies near-death in a hospital. Should he turn himself in? We walk in his footsteps as he makes the choice.
“Before the Storm”‘s two pained protagonists, Ali and Leo, share not just a burden of indecision, but also a relationship: the younger character is smitten with Ali’s young daughter, Sara (Sasha Becker), a schoolmate who is also targeted by the relentless Danne. Earlier in the film, Ali senses that Leo is being picked on, and counsels the youth. “If you love someone,” the elder parent coaches, “you should do something important, to prove it.” Such words, however well intended, provide Leo with inspiration to rid the world of Danne, all the better to ride off into the sunset with Sarah. Later, Leo learns of Ali’s conflict, and comes to understand that painful choices are universal, that to live is to get ground under one’s wheels, with no-one emerging unscathed.
Director Parsa closes his film with some deftly handled suspense. There is violence, but it is handled in the least sensational manner possible. An ugly, botched attempt at murder is depicted as a drawn-out, messy affair that induces one to look away from the screen. Meanwhile, Graffman shows the torment lurking behind Ali’s mellow gaze, as he watches his daughters put on a silly fashion show at home. Pondering whether to take on the assassination during this domestic family interaction, he personifies grace under pressure, while internally poised to explode. Another scene has Graffman revealing the second family to his current wife, Jenny (Anni Ececioglu), and their emotional volleying of words and tension is an acting tour de force. Before the Storm’s closing scenes hint at both hope and despair, as the movie hits home its anti-nuclear message.
Get the whole story in the next part of VIOLENT KIDS! TERRORISTS! DELUSIONAL INMATES! TARANTINO!

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