How to Fix Your Life (Berlinale: The Yard / Yarden)

The main character answers the name 11811, has a job hardly fit for humans and answers to a blond boss with a jaw of steel that never smiles. Still, this is not yet another holocaust drama, but rather the tale of Yarden, The Yard, a gigantic loading station for cars in the port of Malmö.

The man now known as 11811 is the only Swede who works there, apart from management. He‘s a down on his luck poet who lost his job at a literary magazine after reviewing his own book – and trashing it. It starts off a little like Inside Llewyn Davis, as a tale of a struggling artist that will probably never get the big break, with sad boxes of poetry books that will end their life in a storage room somewhere. But soon it becomes Llewyn Davis’ alternative reality – what would have happened if he had taken that mind-numbing job he was offered.

Yarden2

The Yard is a film about work, as a concept, at its most inhumane. Above the gates of Auschwitz a sign said Arbeit macht frei, but here is proof that work can imprison you. This is a job where you‘re deducted if you‘re even a second late, which is hard to control with long lines at the gate, and if you have an accident at work they‘ll make you pay by taking your teenage son‘s TV set.

Which leads his son to lash out at him: “You write books that nobody reads and you can’t even hold down an immigrant job. Fix your life!”

But how do you fix your life? Here you do so by lying, by betraying your co-workers. There is a bonus-system at The Yard, consisting mainly of ratting out your colleagues. Any error can be a bonus in your wallet, at their expense.

All of his colleagues are immigrants, it’s a sign of their status in society; they may be happy to get the job while our white protagonist realizes how far down he’s sunk. Initially though, he wants to help, doing so by helping them out making a CV in Swedish. A man comes in, speaking no Swedish, and after telling them his name asks for a Swedish name. They rename him Magnus Persson, a Swedish equivalent of John Smith, and that really seems to be their impossible dream – to blend in with the locals, become an ordinary Swede.

Stage actor Anders Mossling fits the role of our protagonist perfectly and his co-stars are equally convincing, many of them non-actors who have actually worked at Yarden. Meanwhile, cinematographer turned director Måns Månsson uses acres of beautiful cars to make up a shiny nightmarish landscape. Sometimes you feel that perhaps his background in cinematography burdens him, since this film, based on a book about a poet, has very few words in it. But on second thought, it‘s really about a man who has lost his words and has been reduced to a number.

We can perhaps take solace in the fact that soon enough the machines will also take over this job; they’re testing cars without drivers as I write. In a more logical world that would make their lives better – but one still fears it will actually make it worse. Because when hell is taken away, we simply tend to invent a new one.

Ásgeir H Ingólfsson

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