Hot Docs 2014: Penthouse North (2014)
Penthouse North, although named after its subject’s enviable New York residence, is actually a documentary about aging, denial and misguided nostalgia. While those three themes have been beaten to death in fiction, they can still feel fresh in non-fiction. The subject, Agneta Eckemyr, once appeared in films and graced the covers of Playboy and Cosmopolitan – to call her beautiful in her younger days would be an understatement. A self-proclaimed pioneer in vintage clothing, she even sold her own designs, with the likes of Julia Roberts and Grace Jones as her clientele. Her penthouse was a toned-down version of Warhol’s Factory, and her popularity made her New York’s unofficial “Swedish ambassador.”
Now, she’s in her early 60s, and she’s struggling to keep her apartment, which is now littered with old photographs and unsold clothes. Agneta has also become something of a walking contradiction – she misses her youthful beauty, but also despises the fact that her beauty was all she was ever really known for, or she constantly reminds her friends about her debts, but still continues to throw parties. Almost all of Penthouse North takes place inside, and the importance of the apartment only truly sets in when we are shown Agneta out of her comfort zone – taking the subway, fumbling in the rain or walking to court. The world can be a harsh, confusing place; at least the apartment allows her to feel safe and make sense of it all.
Anyone who has seen a documentary knows that they’re never objective, even if they pretend to be. But for most of Penthouse North‘s 80-minute runtime, filmmaker Joanna St. Michaels just observes Agneta, and what the documentary may lack in structure it more than makes up for with moving, intimate moments. Agneta Eckemyr is equal parts maddening, endearing and sympathetic, and she treats the documentary as both a performance and as a way to let the world know who she genuinely is. Pelle, Agneta’s masseur and close friend, says to another friend at one point: “She’s not a tragic figure.” But Penthouse North proves she is.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit hotdocs.ca.
Screening Times for Penthouse North
Scotiabank Theatre 3 Thu, May 1 6:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 Fri, May 2 9:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 Sun, May 4 6:30 PM