One stereotype of Norway today: the country, low in population and rich from offshore oil, can provide cradle-to-grave support for its five million people and take in refugees from troubled regions all over the world, while taking time to defuse tensions in the Middle East. Not bad for Vikings who once raped, pillaged and burned.
All of that is true, but life just isn’t that easy in the three Norwegian films that premiered at TIFF this year, all of which played under the critics’ radar.
"The Immoral" puts that pretty picture to rest, with a couple that revolts against the welfare state that wants to take its child away. Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen creates a pretty picture of his own, with a crew of misfits who create an alternative universe in the countryside, away from any constraints of political correctness. Far away.
Other writers have noted that "The Immoral" might have been called "The Idiots" if another Nordic film director hadn’t already seized on that title. While Jacobsen takes his antisocial tale to extremes that might impress Lars von Trier, his soft color palette is closer to Mike Leigh’s "Life Is Sweet."
In the film an unrepentant single mother meets a Norwegian army veteran with his own version of PTSD. They team up with a prostitute and a pot-head. Shake well and serve. If the farce had been in English, it would have struck an immediate chord, but foreign comedies rarely play well with North American audiences.
It’s their loss. American filmmakers should also take note, because "The Immoral" tells its story, with its own oddly refined prettified aesthetic, at a rock-bottom budget – achieved in a country where everything is expensive. Jacobsen promises a cheaper film next time. I can’t wait.
If "The Immoral" shows you an underside of Norway that you won’t find in the tourist brochures, Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s new thriller, "Pioneer," shows you another – mostly underwater. Balzac used to say that behind every fortune lies a crime. In "Pioneer," we see that wealth, in moral Norway, can extract a lethal tradeoff. In Norway’s case, when offshore oil brought the promise of unimagined wealth, it also brought the willingness to make sacrifices to access that wealth.
Skjoldbjaerg’s previous "Insomnia" (1997) was one of the most visible indicators of the current resurgence of Norwegian film. "Pioneer" takes us back to the 1970’s, when Norway was building an infrastructure to exploit its offshore petroleum. Bear in mind that by 1973, OPEC was perceived to have a stranglehold on the world’s oil-consuming countries. Tapping into one’s own resources was like finding a fresh source of oxygen.