“An anarchist right in our midst.”
I Am Dina from Norwegian director Ole Bornedal is a difficult film to categorize. Set in 1860s Norway, it’s a romantic period drama–but with strong overtones of the supernatural. In this tale, soap opera blends with mini-epic, and combines with elements of Wide Sargasso Sea and Wuthering Heights. Ultimately it’s 125 minutes of solid–rather odd–entertainment that delivers some mixed feelings about the protagonist–Dina.
Dina is the only child of a wealthy couple. One day a horrible accident (for which Dina is blamed) kills Dina’s mother (Pernilla August). In his grief and rage, Dina’s father (Bjorn Floberg) rejects the child. Dina reverts to a terrified, animalistic state and literally goes mad. This is a horrible, dramatic beginning to the film, and the pristine setting of the beautiful fjords somehow just makes the dying mother’s screams even more horrific.
So the scene is set to make Dina a very sympathetic character … Her father loathes her, he ignores her whenever possible, and soon he has a completely wild, filthy child running all over the fjords. Thanks to intervention from a concerned friend, Jacob (Gerard Depardieu), a tutor named Lorch is brought in for Dina. He beguiles Dina with the cello, and she takes the bait. Lorch then becomes the only person to have any sort of emotional bond with Dina.
Dina (Marie Bonnevie) grows up to be a beautiful young woman, but she’s still extremely strange–one quick look establishes that. But her strangeness doesn’t deter her father’s old friend, Jacob from demanding Dina as a bride. Jacob really should know better, but he can’t help himself. When Dina’s father attempts to force her to marry Jacob, Dina shows just how wild, strange and violent she can be. But this is really just the beginning of Dina’s non-conformist, violent behaviour.
Part Bildungsroman (and the film–by the way–is based on a best-selling trilogy), the film explores the effects of Dina’s traumatic childhood on her adult decisions. Haunted by ghosts, she is in love with the presence of death, and she tends to hurt anyone who loves her. On one hand, there’s a lot to admire about Dina–but then she treats the unfortunate men in her life abominably. Lustful Gerard Depardieu, for example, converts into terrified quivering jelly after less than 24 hours in her company. Although immersed in a patriarchal society, Dina destroys any attempt at male domination–and her reaction to the males in her life shows Dina at her most gracious, but also at her most predatory and monstrous. Ultimately, this lavish tale can be seen as Dina’s triumph over a lifetime of self-destructive patterns of behaviour.