A Norwegian Outlook

in 23rd Tromsø International Film Festival

by Jan Landro

Judging Norwegian film production by what was screened at the Tromsø International Film Festival, one comes away with an impression of diversity — which is not totally inaccurate. Still, what we saw in Tromsø was not representative of Norwegian filmmaking in general. Not by a long shot — although co-productions with distant countries do seem to be on the rise.

Indeed, one could argue that the three Norwegian productions — two fiction films and one documentary — bear little resemblance to the rest of the approximately 25 to 30 films made in Norway each year.

The opening film of the festival, Before Snowfall (Før snøen faller), is the first full-length fiction film from the Norwegian-Kurdish director Hisham Zaman, and the only one of the three films which is not an international co-production. Yet it seems more “international” than Norwegian. The action takes place in Kurdistan, Turkey, Greece, Germany, and — finally — Norway. But hardly a word of Norwegian is spoken.

Before Snowfall is a kind of road movie, but with a much clearer — and far more sombre — purpose than is common in this genre. 18-year-old Siyar is travelling through Europe in order to find and kill his sister, who has run away from her wedding in a Kurdish village and thus offended the family’s honour.

The film is professionally executed, but too slow-paced. In particular, the director — and his cinematographer Marius Matzow Gullbrandsen — seem to have fallen in love with Istanbul and its visual opportunities, to the extent that the film is in danger of turning into a tourist advertisement. Admittedly, they have found many colourful and “authentic” locations in this multicultural city, and some scenes are striking.

The film is well-made and, to some extent, well-played — even though the protagonist (Taher Abdullah Taher) seems emotionally restricted, with limited means of expression. In addition, the main theme — revenge as a means of restoring family honour — could have been more extensively explored. In any case, Zaman brings a new dimension into Norwegian film by taking us into a universe and a way of thinking which, even after so many years of immigration into Norway , remains strange and foreign to us.

Mercy (Nåde) represents a more traditional co-production between Germany and Norway. With a screenplay by Danish writer Kim Fupz Aakeson, the German director Matthias Glasner and his team try to explore the themes of guilt, love, and reconciliation. The only reason that Norwegian actors are involved in this film is the fact that the story unfolds in Hammerfest, northern Norway, where Niels (Jürgen Vogel) works as an engineer at a gas plant. He goes there with his family, hoping to save his ailing marriage.

Drama arises when his wife Maria (beautifully played by Birgit Minichmayr) runs over a young girl and leaves in panic. The girl dies, and Maria and Niels hesitatingly decide to keep the secret to themselves. This changes their lives, as guilt starts mounting in both of them.

The film has a very slow start; after half an hour, you still wonder what is going to happen. To an even greater extent than Gullbrandsen in Before Snowfall, cinematographer Jakub Bejnarowicz caresses the environment with his camera. He worships snow and ice, fjords and snowcapped mountains, driving back and forth in the arctic nights and the polar darkness. It’s all too much, and when the story reaches its conclusion — at least half an hour later than necessary — I feel frustrated because the ending is so abrupt, so unprepared. Mercy is given, but on what grounds?

The documentary Gulabi Gang is a co-production between Norway, Denmark and India. The director, independent filmmaker Nishta Jain, is Indian. The Gulabi Gang is an activist group of Indian women who roam cities and villages to fight violence and repression committed against women and members of the minority group called dalits.

This film has become even more relevant in view of the horrible rape that took place in New Delhi before Christmas, which has opened the eyes of the world to how women in India are treated and how they lack fundamental legal protection. Gulabi Gang is both brutal and beautiful, illustrating Indian women’s conflict between new ideas and loyalty to the traditions and honour codes of their families.

This is an important work and undoubtedly the best of the three Norwegian films screened at TIFF. It fits well into the tradition of the Norwegian production company Piraya Film, internationally known for documentaries such as Yodok Stories, Russian Lessons, and Belarusian Waltz.

Edited by Lesley Chow