Good tidings from Norway
by Boyd van Hoeij
- Norwegian director Bent Hamer’s latest film is a nuanced series of interconnected stories set during the year-end holidays in a snow-covered Norwegian village
Home for Christmas [+see also:
interview: Bent Hamer
film profile] premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival before having its European premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival, where the European press reserved it a warm welcome and it went home with the Best Screenplay award.
The screenplay by the writer-director is based on a collection of stories by Levi Henriksen called Only Soft Presents Under The Tree and weaves together several stories that all happen on Christmas Eve in a small Norwegian village called Skogli (a fictional village, and actually filmed in neighbouring Sweden).
After an apparently unconnected prologue set in the Balkans during winter, the film focuses on many different stories that all occur in Skogli on one night. Many of the stories are connected to one another in both suspected and unsuspected ways, and one of the main assets of the film is its masterful editing. Editors Pal Gengenbach and Silje Norseth not only strike the right balance between the sweet, uplifting stories and the sad and more dramatic ones, but also find the right, unhurried pace. There are surprises in store in several of the stories, but the way they are gradually revealed and presented never feels manipulative, keeping everything under wraps until the right moment.
Stories include those of a man (Trond Fausa Aurvag) who dresses as Santa Claus so he can see his children and ex-wife again without them knowing it is him; a former football star-turned-drunk (Reidar Sorensen) who wants to go home for the holidays; a woman (Nina Andresen-Borud) who believes that her married lover (Tomas Norstrom) will finally leave his wife after Christmas; and a schoolboy (Morten Ilseng Risnes) who pretends his Protestant family isn’t into Christmas so he can be with his pretty Muslim classmate (Sarah Bintu Sakor) instead.
Closer to the Christmas-induced, fuzzy sweetness of Love Actually [+see also:
film profile] than the languid pace and oft-kilter humour of some of Hamer’s previous films (such as O'Horten [+see also:
film profile] and Kitchen Stories), Home for Christmas nonetheless has some place for a couple of quirky laughs and a little melancholy and even sadness, making for a rather satisfying whole that is uplifting without becoming to syrupy.
The film’s only minor hiccough is the story of a Serbian-Albanian couple (Igor Necemer, Nina Zanjani) with a dark past stranded (hinted at in the prologue). They are holed up in an isolated cottage near Skogli and are facing an imminent and pressing problem in what is the least subtle of the strands. Their story also provides the film’s closing images, which almost cross over into kitsch, a sentiment the rest of the film so neatly avoids.
Home for Christmas is a co-production between the director’s BulBul Films, Sweden’s Filmimperiet (the film was largely shot in Sweden), and Germany’s Pandora Filmproduktion, who previously also co-produced Hamer’s O’Horten.