Bard Breien's "The Art of Negative Thinking": An Opportunity Wasted By Ossama A. Rezk

in 25th Torino Film Festival

by Ossama Rezk

It’s a pity Bard Breien, of Norway, wasted a great opportunity to turn his feature film debut, The Art of Negative Thinking (Kunsten å tenke negativt), into a great movie. The main idea in the script he wrote and directed, was to focus on the positive results you can get when you quit the track, stop worrying about being perfect and start following your negative instincts instead.

It was really touching and funny — in the first half of the film — to follow the contradiction between the very negative attitude of Geirr (Fridjov Saheim), who has become severely handicapped in a traffic accident, and the ideal thoughts of the municipal positivist group his girlfriend Ingvild (Kirsti Eline Torhaug) invited to their home to help both of them, since she doesn’t know how to handle him any longer.

In this half, the film seemed a perfect set for a twenty-four hours drama, thanks to the vivid script and the distinguished performance of the actors, especially Saheim. It was also interesting to follow the conversations Geirr had with other disabled — but optimistic — people, how he kept on with his negative thinking, how he gradually forced everyone into a tunnel of desperation and anguish and how he even made everyone challenge the power of the enabled head of the group Tori (Kjersti Holmen).

But, unfortunately, the film started — in the second half — to lose its sincere and new spirit. It began to use cliché themes according to which all characters were involved in absurd and unbelievable situations instead of focusing on the main idea and trying to make it reach its peak. I didn’t like the artificial way of pushing everything to its extreme edge, to make characters destroy and damage everything in the house, to make them reach the point of no return and then pretend as if nothing has ever happened.

The most ‘negative thinking’ of this movie — in my opinion — was to simply reach a happy ending after doing a tremendous effort to underline that this is impossible. Not only do the disabled people catch — once again — sight of light at dawn as a symbol for a glimpse of hope, but also Ingvild embraces Geirr in a final hug, although it is impossible for them to lead a natural sexual life because of his disability, and although he witnessed her sexual encounter with Gard (Henrik Mestad), the boyfriend of Marte (Marian Saastad Ottesen), who is one of the disabled group!

It is the art of complicating everything for the whole movie and trying to solve them all — very easily — in two minutes at the end, where it fails. I don’t hate happy endings and I do like disabled people to have hope, but in this specific dark comedy, according to the way it was presented in its first half, the happy ending seems weak, artificial and frustrating. It would have been more powerful — and maybe more suitable for the film — if the end was left open, giving the viewers the opportunity to think and contemplate.

On the other hand, The Art of Negative Thinking remains a different and important film that is worth discussing. Its brilliant idea awakens the spirit of revolution and defying taboos and stereotypes. It just could have been much stronger and could have had more influence if the idea was better exploited by the writer/director.