Shame On Dry Land Review: LFF 2023

shame on dry land

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Shame on dry land is the 5th feature from Swedish director Axel Petersen and is self-described as a redemption drama meets Mediterranean noir. Set amongst the Swedish expat community on Malta, it’s a taut 90 minutes packed with twists, turns and more double crosses than you can count.

Dimman (Joel Spira) steps off a ship in a Maltese port wracked with anxiety and makes his way to a hilltop house to gate crash a wedding. Some 8 years earlier, Dimman and his friend and business partner Fredrik (Christopher Wagelin) had been caught conducting fraudulent business and rather than face justice together, Dimman skipped town, leaving Fredrik to face the legal and financial consequences.

After nearly a decade working namelessly on sailing vessels in the Caribbean Dimman has heard that Fredrik is getting married and chooses this as his moment to come back and attempt to make amends with his friend, though the statute of limitations on his crime is not yet up and he faces arrest if he’s caught by the authorities.

Jacqueline Ramel and Joel Spira in Axel Petersen's Shame on Dry Lane
Jacqueline Ramel and Joel Spira in Axel Petersen’s Shame on Dry Lane

Fredrik and his fiancé Sara’s reception to the wayward former friend is frosty at best. He finds himself staying with another connection on the island, the mysterious Kicki; a wealthy former lover of suspicious means. Indebted to Kicki for helping him when he was on the run, Dimman agrees to tail a government inspector who has arrived on the island to investigate Kicki, but things quickly spiral out of control as we find that everyone within the expat community is tied up in dodgy financial dealings with higher stakes than anyone could have imagined. Dimman seeks to heal his relationship with his former best friend and pay back his debt to his benefactor but soon finds himself in over his head as things take a murderous turn.

Shame on Dry Land has all the feeling of classic noir meets the 21st century as we delve into the seedy underbelly of one of the world’s oldest industries gone modern. It’s only from watching this film that I’ve learned that Malta has a rapidly growing Swedish community, the tens of thousands of which are nearly all working in the iGaming (online poker, roulette etc) industry. Drawn to the Mediterranean island due to its lax regulation of the gaming industry and low taxes, Scandinavian workers are flocking south.

Shame’s movie Malta is a world in which all this new foreign investment has bank rolled strip clubs and night spots, where the wealthy business beneficiaries live a life of luxury on the hill and their debtors are beaten to a pulp in the shady alleyways below.

Joel Spira stars in Shame on Dry Land
Joel Spira stars in Shame on Dry Land

The moody plot in which all the main characters are shades of dark contrasts brilliantly with the bright and shiny scenery, captured in hazy, sunkissed cinematography and flashes of blue and orange. It’s a beautiful film to look at, sharp hand-held shots cutting between moments that could be from a holiday brochure and others that could be lifted from a grimy gangster movie.

It’s an intriguing central performance from Joel Spira, who for much of the film seems like a blank slate that all of this chaos is just happening to and around, a hapless antihero caught in the storm. But whose physicality as the plot develops unmistakably hints at him having a ‘certain set of skills.’ Intriguing hints at a backstory besides the white-collar crime we already know about.

Unfortunately, whilst Shame on Dry Land delivers on vibes, it’s only half baked when it comes to plot. The reveal as to why Fredrik has found himself in such a dire situation is frankly silly, the villains’ motivations and allegiances underexplored and the many and varied threads of the story simply fail to come together in a satisfying ending. It’s an enjoyable if muted thriller, but not one that will leave you wanting to revisit it in the future or pick it apart with your friends.

One thing worth mentioning: an utterly demented and weirdly placed cover of Cher’s Believe. I certainly didn’t have that on my festival bingo card.

At the time of writing Shame On Dry Land does not yet have a UK release date, it is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival

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