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Rebellion, Corruption and Rejection: Norway Under the Radar at TIFF

Thompson on Hollywood By David D'Arcy | Thompson on Hollywood September 21, 2013 at 4:02PM

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.
'I Am Yours' director Iram Haq
'I Am Yours' director Iram Haq

Breathing is one of the metaphors of "Pioneer," in which two brothers, Petter and Knut, are deep sea divers in a project (run by an American firm) to connect a pipeline to an offshore well. Knut dies in an accident in a pressurized underwater chamber. Petter, already suspicious of his American advisers, learns that management knew of the risks that it tried to cover up. Businessmen are corruptible, just more corruptible when incentivized by American partners, we see.

Norway got rich. "Pioneer," based on real events, suggest that some Norwegians got more honest. Filmed in tones of blue-gray that darken as the action goes deeper into the sea and higher up the management chain, "Pioneer" lurches around as Petter (Aksel Hennie) struggles to determine who knew what about his brother’s death and about the dangers that might end his own life. There are echoes of the corporate corruption plot of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," with so much English spoken by American experts that a remake might not even be necessary. 

So little of the film takes place on dry land that "Pioneer" has the look of a science-fiction drama, with characters wearing diving costumes (space suits) and much of the story unfolding in concrete industrial blocks that resemble space stations. The visual references seem less distant when you think of a parallel promise of wealth in the US – the Keystone Pipeline System – and the risks that may be concealed by the corporations that stand to profit most from the mega-project.      

In the monochromatically and unrelentingly realistic "I Am Yours," the first feature from Pakistani-Norwegian Iram Haq, unemployed single mother Mina (Amrita Acharia) has a temperamental son, a self-absorbed boyfriend prospect in Sweden, and a scornful disapproving mother.  And she hopes to fall in love, and get work as an actress. Things don’t work out, which is not the film’s element of surprise. 

Circumstance drives fate more than character in this simple small-budgeted drama which defies the immigrant story boilerplate and that of the misfortunes of a young woman on her own with a young child.  

A series of botched human encounters, "I Am Yours" lacks a conventional ending, which fits its take on realism.  Shooting in claustrophobic interiors and on empty streets, this director has a feel for the fragility of a mother spurned by her pitiless honor-driven family, propelled this way and that when yet another thing goes wrong. Young Amrita Acharia, who resembles a younger version of the director (also an actress), embodies the unraveling that takes place when blithe immaturity spirals into self-destruction. 

"I Am Yours" marks a first glimpse of life in South Asian culture transplanted into a Nordic setting.  It offers a particular example of a look through that window, but also fixes on a universal unformed character facing decisions that demand maturity, and coming up short, finding that part of Norwegian society (or society in Norway) that feminism hasn’t reached. We’ll be seeing more from this director and actress.    

This article is related to: Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Festivals, Reviews

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.