CPH:DOX 2024 review: G – 21 Scenes from Gottsunda (Loran Batti)

“Batti is convincing in his way of putting his personal conflicted feelings to the forefront as the main emotional stake of the final act of the movie.”

Not everyone can be Zlatan Ibrahimovic”. The shadow of the legendary Swedish football player hovers over the citizens of Gottsunda, an underprivileged suburb of the city of Uppsala that over the years has turned into a ghetto for immigrant families, and a drug-stricken area where gang activity flourishes. Mentioned several times over the course of the film, Ibrahimovic is a figure they can relate to: of Balkan descent, he himself grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood (in Malmö) and got mixed up in shady business in his youth before becoming the man he is now known to be. Yet the hard truth is that for one Zlatan there will be 99 other people who remain stuck in the neighbourhood, its bad influence and lack of positive outcomes. And not only for one Zlatan, but also, when it comes to Gottsunda, one Loran Batti, the director of G – 21 Scenes from Gottsunda, who managed to get out of there (through boxing first, then studying) and decided to come back to capture on film what life is like in such an environment.

True to its title card (“a personal rather than objective testimony”), Batti openly shoots his movie from a first-person perspective. The 21 scenes are about his background, his friends, his encounters and the day-to-day events he witnesses. Nevertheless, through this subjective lens he manages to craft a story of universal value, as a lot of what he puts in it exists in every country. There is the aggressive behaviour of the cops, who blatantly act as if they were themselves above the law because they think the people they deal with are beneath them – in one scene, a cop looks straight into Batti’s camera as he dismisses a request to give his identification number; or the brutal failure of the politics of high-rise housing, which has turned into open-air prisons for the inhabitants. One of the truths passed on by G – 21 Scenes from Gottsunda is that the real state prison is also a significant part of the life of Gottsunda’s people. Petty thieves and thugs, with whom Batti grew up, are shown going back and forth between home and jail, turning the latter into a secondary place of residence where it is almost ordinary to live. This gives two truly comical moments, one staged by its characters (they put on a fireworks display at 7am to celebrate the release of a friend), the other cleverly shaped by Batti’s editing and pacing of the scene. As he drives a pal who wishes to turn himself in, he sees him being kept on hold for a long time at the prison gate, until the guards have checked the necessary information and found the time to come and pick him up.

These comic reliefs are one instance among several of Batti’s abilities as a director and editor. Making an embedded personal documentary on a very low budget does not keep him from experimenting and presenting a plethora of ideas that make the film vibrant and powerful. He turns the legal impossibility to show a substantial part of his old friends’ life, which involves guns and drugs, into a compelling use of the off-screen space as an element of filmmaking of equal value to what is depicted on screen. And he is convincing in his way of putting his personal conflicted feelings to the forefront as the main emotional stake of the final act of the movie, once again raising a subject of universal significance: is there such a thing as a middle ground between keeping a strong attachment to the neighbourhood where you grew up and breaking off ties once and for all?