"North": An Off-Road Movie By Nils Saeveras

in 59th Berlinale

by Nils Saeveras

I suppose that the Norwegian North could be called a “Northern”. But the film is more accurately described, by the filmmakers, as an “offroad-movie”. Offroad by way of snowmobile. Initially, the main character Jomar (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is not planning a journey at all. He is really comfortable at the day centre for maladjusted people that he’s attending. So comfortable indeed, that he’s not very happy about it, when as an adjustment to the real world, he’s given a job managing a ski slope. His favorite pastime is nurturing his angst through watching the “Tunnel Disaster Week”-specials on “The Discovery Channel”, an early example of the films wonderful, offbeat humor. This routine is broken when old friend Lasse (Kyrre Hellum) shows up. Their reunion starts with a fight in a snowstorm, and you get the feeling this is the sort of film where strange stuff just happens. But the reason for the fight, it turns out, is that Lasse stole Jomar’s girlfriend four years earlier. With or without Jomar being aware of it, that affair produced a child.

Even though Jomar is clearly not cut out to be a father, a journey begins. A journey north, and a journey to fatherhood. From the middle of Norway and up north. Jomar is the lone rider on his snowmobile, leaving a trail of burnt down cabins as he is rather careless with his propane burner. The distance he travels is not really possible to travel by such means, and even less by skiing, as he sets out to do when the snowmobile breaks down. So the journey itself carries in it some absurdist elements that also will characterize the incidents that happen along the offroad. What happens is really a series of offbeat short stories, but all tied neatly together with the main story. Jomar, it seems, is not alone in not being fully adjusted to the world. There are three main episodes, but also smaller stories and incidents along the way. Jomar encounters people that, let’s say, have certain offbeat qualities of their own. The many amusing details offered are best left for the viewer to discover for him or herself.

North is the first feature film by Rune Denstad Langlo, coming to fiction from documentaries. The script is by Erlend Loe, who wrote Detector ten years ago, a film credited with igniting a new wave of Norwegian cinema. Both films are similarly-themed, as both deal with a young man who finds the world a challenging place. North, though, is clearly the more offbeat of the two films. The director and scriptwriter clearly make a happy, creative couple. Throw into that mix veteran director of photography Philip Ögaard, and North is an unusual team effort with great-looking cinematography. That goes for the snowy, wide-open mountain landscapes, but also, Ögaard is able to give a strange beauty to the many derelict farm houses Jomar passes along the way. This makes North reminiscent of early Jim Jarmusch films, in a slightly more polished version.

The somewhat vague ending leaves the viewer free to make up his or her mind about Jomar’s future. Most viewers will probably want to see the rough, young rambler find his footing. North relies, to charming effect, on non-professionals in most of the minor parts. In the main part, the professional actor Anders Baasmo Christiansen creates a ragged and at the same time helpless Jomar, a down-but-not-yet-out character, often seen in Scandinavian cinema. North is a comic gem, but it will not only leave you with laughs, it will also give you afterthoughts. Director Rune Denstad Langlo seems destined for even more ambitious cinematic efforts in the years to come.