Tag Archives: Norway

The Worst Person in the World

11 Feb

Is it so terrible to decide what you want and act on it? (It can be.)

Norwegian director Joachim Trier rounds out his Oslo Trilogy with this engrossing tale about a young woman struggling to define herself in the world. Like the other two entries in the series, “Reprise” (2006) and “Oslo, August 31st” (2011), “The Worst Person in the World” unfolds in the same urbanscape and is an inward-focused, emotional journey. Trier’s bookend is meted into 12 neat chapters with titles such as “Cheating,” “Bobcat Wrecks Xmas” and “Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo.” We settle in with Julie (Renate Reinsve, who pretty much is everything to the film’s success) as a med school student who switches to psychology, then decides she wants to be a photographer. She ends up working in a bookstore and, because of her passion for art and photography, meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, who starred in the other trilogy chapters), a renowned graphic novelist (think “Fritz the Cat”) with a cult following. He’s a decade or so her senior, but they become lovers and move in together. It’s a cozy, coddled existence initially, but living in Aksel’s shadow tugs on Julie’s sense of self. When she meets a young barista named Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who’s also in a relationship, there’s an undeniable, immediate spark between the two.

How the dynamics play out within and between two couples is nothing too dramatic – certainly nothing worthy of the harsh title. One gets diagnosed with terminal cancer, another becomes an Internet for blogged pontifications about blow jobs and a third, learning that she’s a scant 3 percent indigenous (Sámi) becomes a climate change zealot. Other than that, mostly what fills the screen is the pain of longing and the uncertainty of tomorrow. There is one jarring bit in which Julie consumes hallucinogens as daddy issues manifest themselves in a unique and shocking fashion: a hurled bloody tampon. The best scene, however, and a neat trick by Trier, has Julie jogging through the streets of Oslo en route to meet Eivind, and every person, car and bird is held motionless; cyclists in mid-crank are frozen as she weaves around them, seemingly unaware or uncaring of their paused state, and it’s here that we get to measure the moral fortitude of our heroine; if Julie truly was the “Worst Person in the World,” clearly she would have stopped and pilfered cash from the wallets of some of the more well-off Oslovians.

Trier and his trilogy writing partner, Eskil Vogt, navigate time and emotional transitions seamlessly, and how the film ends is a smart, subtle twist that brings Julie’s odyssey full circle. There’s no grand drama to it, but it does feel hauntingly apt. “The Worst Person in the World” was named this week to the Academy’s list of Best International Film nominees, a loaded lot that packs more punch than the Best Picture slate.


9 May

‘Gunda’: Intimate portrait of a pig on a farm, lingering images you’ll never want to leave

By Tom MeekFriday, May 7, 2021

Viktor Kosakovskiy might be one of the most engrossing filmmakers you’ve never heard of. Part of that’s likely because he’s a documentary filmmaker – and those documentaries are about unassuming subjects such as water, or a sow on a Norwegian farm. That 2018 work about humans’ dance with water, “Aquarela,” was a stunning achievement in “how did they get those shots” videography, made even more compelling by deft editing and a driving score. His latest, about the pig named in the title “Gunda,” is equally captivating, even if the perilous power of Mother Nature’s wrath doesn’t loom in every scene.

Shot in deeply layered black and white, “Gunda” follows the seasonal cycle of a sow on a farm, birthing a liter of piglets and rearing them from pink (I know it’s black and white, but bear with me) and squirming, endlessly suckling little oinkers. Throughout the film, shot in long, lingering takes that turn the mundane into a riveting, can’t-turn-away event, we never see a farmer – or any human, for that matter. We see the wheels of a tractor, but for the most part it’s just Gunda and her brood, who seem to have free range of the farm and surrounding forest; we occasionally meet some barnyard friends in Mr. Duck, Mrs. Moo, her bestie, and a one-legged chicken, among the many. It’s “Charlotte’s Web” or “Babe” (1995) sans the anthropomorphic cuteness.

How Kosakovskiy gets at the heart of his subject and makes us feel – and we do feel, if not take on Gunda’s maternal instincts as if we were there caring for her cute brood – clearly has much to do with patience and composition. No one would equate the Russian-born auteur to the great Frederick Wiseman, whose hands-off, fly-on-the-wall style is pretty much the definition of cinéma vérité; but the long takes and observation of rhythms and beats of life, drunk in and deeply felt, are poetically similar, even though the filmmakers’ subjects and effect remain vastly different. “Gunda,” like “Aquarela,” is best seen on the big screen for its masterful cinematography’s attention to framing, depth of field and shadows.

How “Gunda” moves in the final act will come as no surprise, but should give you a bit more pause the next time you’re debating soy or pork bacon for your BLT.

The Snowman

24 Oct


This much-hyped thriller (“produced by Martin Scorsese”) based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s crime series becomes its own enigmatic entity. “The Snowman” is both a wonderment to behold and an endless aching thud of frenetic plot manipulations that insult the audience’s intelligence – something that’s bound to happen when you build a thriller by proxy (two or more screenwriters). It makes you step back and ponder what might have been. The prospects are endless, as all the pieces are right there; they just don’t fit and flow.

The tale is set in Oslo and the surrounding countryside, captured in gorgeous scenic shots. Everything is gray, drab and snowbound, also a fair assessment of all the characters skulking about a dark whodunit that reaches for the moody grandeur of a David Fincher film (“Se7en” or “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) but winds up closer to “Body of Evidence” (1993), which effectively killed Madonna’s acting career and probably had Willem Dafoe thinking about swapping agents.  Continue reading