Limbo: an original new voice
by Vladan Petkovic
- This slow burner from young Danish director Anna Sofie Hartmann leaves a profound impression
San Sebastián’s New Directors section has discovered another interesting new voice: Danish-born Anna Sofie Hartmann’s first feature film, Limbo [+see also:
film profile], world-premiered at the festival to mixed reactions. However, no one can deny that the young German-based director is a distinctive talent whose approach successfully combines delicate personal matters with almost trivial facts of life – to the benefit of the meaningfulness of both.
The film is set in the small Danish town of Nakskov, where a group of high-school students is rehearsing Antigone as part of their drama class. Slowly, the director steers the focus onto Sara (Annika Nuka Mathiassen), an intelligent and attractive student who goes to help the teacher, Karen (Sofia Nolsø), paint her apartment.
The teacher also hails from a small place – namely, the Faroe Islands’ Tórshavn – and this is the starting point for their first personal interaction. Soon it becomes obvious that Sara has developed romantic feelings for Karen, to put it mildly. In fact, the student bluntly tells the teacher the next time she visits her place that she thinks she is in love with her. As expected, Karen dismisses the idea as a flight of fancy.
Simultaneously, life in town – and in the classroom – is running its own course. In between scenes of the students in a pub discussing the moral implications of the literature they are reading, including Sara, who is not always the focus of these segments, Hartmann intersperses the proceedings with documentary-style sequences of sugar-processing in the local factory. And while the students are chatting away as they wait for their kebabs and pizzas after a night of drinking, so are the immigrants making the food – in their own language, without subtitles.
The final third of the film, after a crucial and fully unexpected twist – presented so matter-of-factly that its impact takes until after the screening to actually hit – continues in the same vein, now focused on Karen. This can be both fascinating and frustrating, depending on the viewer’s mood, experience and affinities, so it is no wonder that the film divided both critics and audiences at San Sebastián.
Despite is forgettable title, Limbo is quite an original film in the sense of both form and approach. A real low-key slow burner, it leaves the viewer with more of a profound than a strong, sudden impression, building up after the film, rather than during the viewing experience itself.
The movie was made thanks to the production facilities of Hartmann’s school, Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin, which also holds the rights.