Category Archives: Norway

Happy Happy (2010)

Ok, so the Norwegian film Happy Happy (Sykt Lykkelig) from director Anne Sewistsky may not change your world, but it is an entertaining way to spend 85 minutes–especially if you’re interested to see how climate impacts personal lives.

Happy Happy begins with the arrival of a small family to a freshly rented house–Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens), her husband Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen), and their adopted black son, Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy). They’re new to the remote rural area and are renting the house right next to their landlords, another young family composed of Kaja (Agnes Kittleson), husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelson) and son Theodor (Oskar Hernaes Brandso). Kaja, a happy go-lucky German teacher at the local junior high, can’t wait for the new family to move in. She’s hoping that they’ll become friends, and after an initial introduction, it’s clear that Kaja’s optimism and desperate need for friendship mask a lifeless marriage fraught with problems. Kaja’s neediness and obvious admiration for the other couple (she sees them as being sophisticated and glamorous) spell trouble, and Elisabeth sniffs that Kaja, although pleasant enough, is a shade too desperate. And when there are no other neighbours for miles around, who wants the woman next door to be so needy for any sign of human companionship?

As it turns out, proximity and social isolation can be a dangerous thing, and since there seems to be little to do on those long, Norwegian winter nights, after a  few awkward dinners, the 2 couples get together in the evenings to play games. Kaja and Sigve welcome the social interaction, but Elisabeth finds the evenings tedious, and taciturn Eirik would obviously rather be off on one of his mysterious moose hunting expeditions. After games of Charades falls flat, Sigve, much to Elisabeth’s annoyance,  invests in the board game Couples. An evening’s entertainment  which includes some pointed personal questions, reveals fractured relationships along with the rather embarrassing information that Eirik claims to no longer has sex with Kaja due to her perennial yeast infection–a condition she adamantly denies.

The film’s subplot concerns the relationship between the children, and while the adults play Charades and board games, Theodur decides to make Noa play ‘slave.’ So we see several games afoot–all of which have serious consequences. Sigve, Elisabeth, Kaja and Eirik all try to play at being happily married, duplicitous facades which slip as the film wears on, but even as the couples try to fool each other, honesty between the respective partners isn’t exactly on the table either, and a crisis must occur before some painful truths finally make it to the surface.

Nothing too earth shattering happens here, and the film takes a light, comedic approach to some serious issues. While I didn’t quite buy the ending, for this viewer, the culture and lifestyle adjustments made for climate made this well-acted film entertaining and worth catching.

Happy Happy is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s foreign film festival.

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I am Dina (2002)

 “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.

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Monster Thursday (2004)

“Death is an express train from the future.”

Norwegian film Monster Thursday from director Arild Ostin Ommundsen begins with the Hawaiian-surfer themed wedding of Tord (Christian Skolmen) and pregnant Karen (Silje Salomonsen). Best man Even (Vegar Hoel) manages to make an idiot out of himself during his speech, but the awkward moment is lost in the subsequent merrymaking.

When Tord announces that he must go abroad, he leaves Karen in the care of Even knowing full well that this is a situation fraught with possibilities. Even dated Karen first, but he lost her to Tord. Even is a bit of a loser with a reputation for unreliability. With Tord gone, Even steps into his shoes, begins remodeling the kitchen for Karen and offers to attend her doctor’s appointments. No one, least of all Karen, believes that Even will ever really change.

As part of his character rehabilitation, Even, who’s never tried surfing in his life, decides that he’s going to learn (Tord is an experienced surfer), and so he contacts the legendary Skip (Kim Bodnia) for lessons. Even’s initial foray into surfing is very funny, and these scenes are loaded with some great characters including Even’s hapless friend Beckstrom (Andreas Cappelen). But ultimately, Monster Thursday is, surprisingly, a very serious film. Even serves an inspiration for those around him (and not in a gooey, sentimental way). His friends and acquaintances begin to appreciate what they have when they compare their lives to all that Even strove so hard for.

Visually, this is a gorgeous film. Many of the scenes include shots of the coastline with the sea and the sky blending with cold, steely grays. In other scenes the same shots take on a sepia tone. Monster Thursday is ultimately a very unusual and sad tale that manages to catch the viewer off guard. While on one level, it’s a fairly traditional tale of a love triangle, it’s ultimately much, much more than that.

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