An Incest Drama, Cold as the Scandinavian Winter

in 38th Göteborg Film Festival

by Ulrich Wimmeroth

Ulrich Wimmeroth on Anne Sewitsky’s “Homesick”

Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky centers her movies on issues of family. In her first feature, “Happy Happy” (2010), which won the “World Cinema Jury Prize” at Sundance in 2011, she used black comedy to point up the drama of a failing relationship and missing family ties. In “Homesick” (De nærmeste, 2015), we also see a woman who seems happy at first glance. However, behind her beautiful, ever-smiling face, she is tormented by deep emotional problems. “Homesick” screened as a nominee for the “Dragon Award” for Best Nordic Film at this year’s festival.

Charlotte (Ine Marie Wilmann) is a beautiful 27-year-old woman who seems to live a perfect life. She teaches ballet to a group of cute little children, and she has a great-looking boyfriend as well as a best friend to share her thoughts with. But this thin veneer of normality is cracked early on in the film when we meet her parents. Charlotte’s father, an alcoholic, is dying of cirrhosis, while her self-centered mother Anna (Anneke von der Lippe) is a self-centered woman who is going on a trip to fulfill her dreams and doesn’t have much love to show her daughter. Then there is half-brother Henrik (Simon J. Berger), the child of Anna’s first marriage, whom Charlotte has never met before. When Henrik and his wife and son move from Sweden to Oslo, Charlotte becomes curious about him and stalks him, even invading the comfort of his home with an unannounced and unwanted visit. This is when the drama starts to unfold, when after a night on the town drinking and fooling around, Charlotte and Henrik begin to connect in a way that is not so appropriate for a brother and sister.

Although Sewitsky touches on taboos with an incestuous relationship, this is mostly conveyed with a few short sex scenes, never overly explicit, and in the end their actions have no real consequences. Charlotte’s boyfriend Dag (Oddgeir Thune) is a musician, and spends most of the film conveniently away on tour, although after he finds some explicit messages on her phone he ends the relationship. Henrik appears to have left his family, but we never see his side of the situation; it is largely Charlotte’s point of view which is shown.

Incest has occurred, but none of the characters seem to care that much. So why should the audience? Instead of making an obvious statement about an illicit relationship, Sewitsky chooses to keep the audience at a distance, simply observing the couple as they act without considering the people they hurt or the moral implications of their affair.

“Homesick” is far from a bad film. It relies on good performances from its actresses, particularly the outstanding feature debut of Wilmann. With her blonde hair, bright blue eyes and cute smile, most viewers will instantly want to hug this girl and protect her from the evils of the world. But behind the innocent-seeming face lies a needy person. In one of the strongest scenes, Charlotte’s friend Marta (Silje Storstein) rages about her behavior and tells her that she sucks the life out of every person she meets. Instead of being hurt by these harsh words, Charlotte merely whispers: “I waited for years for you to say this to me.” This woman knows that she selfishly hurts everybody around her, but she will not stop to get her needs fulfilled: namely, her desire for love and a family.

Edited by Lesley Chow