Tune for Two is a short film directed by –
Wait, before I start talking about this film, you need to watch it. The link is below. Trust me, you don’t want this spoiled, so go ahead and watch the film. NSFW content warning.
Seriously, watch it. It’s like three minutes long. Honestly, if you have time to read a review on my blog that I update like twice a year, you can watch this short film. Here’s the link again.
Did you watch it? I know how it easy it is to not watch something your friend tells you that you need to watch. Well, this is the film you actually need to watch. So I’m going to say it again, take three minutes and watch it at this link.
Tune for Two is a short film directed by Gunnar Järvstad, who has several credits as a Second-Unit Director on projects in Sweden.
The film features two characters: Assassin (Daniel Adolfsson) presumably a hitman or some sort of enforcer, and Victim (Fredrik Gunnarsson). The victim is beaten up and bloody, crying, as if he already knows what is going to happen. The killer is quiet. He’s not enjoying his position, he’s not relishing the chance to kill someone, he’s just there.
And then the victim starts singing.
“Mah Ná Mah Ná” was written by Piero Umilani for the film Sweden: Heaven and Hell, a Swedish (gasp) film that explores different aspects of sexuality through nightclubs, porn, swingers and sex ed.
-Sweden: Heaven and Hell Poster
The song became known in the west through its usage on the Red Skelton Show, Sesame Street, and The Benny Hill Show. The song was very popular and reached #55 on the Billboard Top 100 Singles, very impressive for a song with no words.
It's renown then exploded when used on The Muppet Show. The show featured the alien Mahna Mahna singing the song with the Snowths – though in their earliest appearance, the leader was named Bip Bippadotta.
-The Muppet Show
The nonsense song was extremely popular, and an easy way for people to bond.
Which the killer and the victim subsequently do. The victim sings the opening riffs of “Mah Ná Mah Ná” with no lead-in. This is a man who is desperate and has no idea what to do. The fact that he is covered in blood suggests that he has already tried to escape. He might have tried to reason with the killer, or cried. Or maybe he instinctively realized that he was doomed. He feels hopeless. But he has an idea.
The killer is confused of course. Is this guy singing? But…he recognizes the song. So he joins in.
The New York Times article “What is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows” says:
“Nostalgia has been shown to counteract boredom, loneliness, and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.”
Tune for Two is set in a snowy forest. Two disconnected men shiver, both alone in the vast wilderness. The victim faces his own death, alone. The only comfort he has is nostalgia.
BBC Worklife’s article “How Nostalgia Makes You Work Better” states:
“Collective nostalgia can link people who don’t have familial or friendship bonds, through pop-culture or events in broader society that they have all experienced. In fact, nostalgia can be a unique tool for bringing diverse groups of people together – including in the workplace, where it’s potentially useful for fostering bonds between colleagues.”
When the killer and the victim sing together, they are sharing nostalgia. They are both returning to an earlier point in their lives. Perhaps as children they watched The Muppet Show, or Benny Hill or Sweden: Heaven and Hell (a very kid-friendly film). They hold memories of the show and the song, and they return to those memories to share a bond.
One of the most impressive things about Tune for Two is the complete lack of dialogue. The entire story is told through masterful direction and camera work along with completely enthralling acting. The timing and delivery of the actor’s actions are perfect and manage to be simultaneously ridiculous and completely believable in the moment.
The choice of angles in particular is astounding. From the start, the characters are put in two establishing shots to show not only their spatial relationship to each other, but their actual relationship and power dynamics, evident in the killer towering over the victim and the victim unable to look at the killer.
After these establishing shots pass – very quickly – every shot is closer on one of the two, either as a closeup or as a medium. The medium of the victim even cuts the head off the assassin. They are separate.
Until they start to sing. With each “verse” of the song, the shot grows wider and wider, eventually bringing the two back together.
And then it’s over. The film returns to singles.
And the assassin kills the victim anyway.
Tune for Two is a beautiful film about loneliness and shared nostalgia. Gunnar Järvstad is using as many pieces of film language as he can to compose a gripping and emotional story that also happens to be ridiculous and funny, and manages to be one of the best short films ever made.