The Rules of the Game

in 34th Molodist International Film Festival

by Barbara Schweizerhof

Uno, the writing/directing-debut of the young, yet already well-known Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie, was the one real revelation in the competition films in Kiev. It is rare that the first attempt of a young shooting star in making a movie, where all the key roles, including the main character, are under his control, is so convincing.

The title Uno relates to a card game. Not that it’s of great importance to know that. But in one of the decisive moments in this film the main character David (Aksel Hennie) explains the rules of the game to his mongoloid brother, with whom he has been playing the game a lot of times. It is the morning when the two of them, already dressed in black suits for the funeral of their father, are killing time waiting for their mother to get ready. David, who’s under a lot of strain and pressure, suddenly can no longer endure the cheerful-helpless playing along of his disabled brother. “You don’t even know how to play!” And for once without the usual, habitual leniency towards the presumably weak, he’s lecturing him about the rules of the game. The good-natured brother doesn’t mind much. Yet the audience gets some hints about how to put into words what is going on in this film: With one special card you can change the colour of the ongoing game. And that’s what David has been doing in his life, just a few hours before.

On the surface Uno tells a story we have often, may be too often, seen on screen: A young guy in bad company, getting always deeper into trouble, somehow finds the power to free himself of peer pressure and false values and finally reforms. Surprisingly, newcomer Aksel Hennie tells his story with such a fresh and precise feeling for atmosphere and details, that the all too familiar story once more arouses our interest. On screen there emerges the seemingly very realistic setting of amateur-bodybuilding in Oslo. A diverse group of young men gathers at a work-out-studio, where David earns his money. Some of them are criminals, dealing with steroids and drugs, some are regular guys, interested in sports, and some are in between. David is living with his mother, a dying father and the above-mentioned mongoloid brother, and the troubled but caring atmosphere of his home contrasts violently with the fierce tone and behaviour at the studio, where “masculinity” is the most favoured virtue. Before long, David is forced to choose between this two worlds and their different set of ethics, but it doesn’t come easy for him to free himself of his old bonds…

The touching thing about David’s struggle to get away from his friends is the role his disabled brother plays in it. On the outset, it is David who’s supposed to look after his brother, but it comes out, that it’s the brother that finally takes care of him. He supports David in an inapt but stubborn way, yet with the power of a true-loving brother’s heart. And even though “the good disabled” might appear as another cliché, in this movie as a result of the strong performances of all the actors involved, it seems unique and has a poignancy far from kitsch.

Since the festival in Kiev is a platform for beginners, the short film competition is very important and we decided to give a prize in this section too. Our choice fell upon another Scandinavian movie, this time from Iceland. It might not be mere coincidence that The Last Farm deals in a totally different way with similar issues.

Like Uno it also is a movie about the discovery of tenderness and love in a cruel world. An old couple is about to move to a foster house, leaving their beloved home, a lonely farm somewhere in the beautiful but coarse Icelandic landscape. The daughter is already on her way to help her old folks, not knowing that her father lied to her on the phone, just before she set out in the morning. We only get short shots of the daughter in the car, the main focus of this 20-minute-film is on the father and his preparations for a journey to a totally different destination than the supposed one. It takes some time until we understand his situation and what he’s about to do, but slowly we realize that his wife has already died and he has no intention of leaving the farm. The Last Farm is beautifully shot, a film nearly without any words, but with a tender and, at the same time, very strong emotional impact.

Barbara Schweizerhof