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LECCE 2017

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Framing Mom: Who we are, and where we come from


- In competition at the 18th Lecce Film Festival, the fourth feature film by Sarah Johnsen is the anything but classic story of a young woman looking for her mother

Framing Mom: Who we are, and where we come from
Ruby Dagnall in Framing Mom

Love and sex, family and adoption, broached freely, in an easygoing way with anything but classic outcomes, are at the centre of Framing Mom [+see also:
film profile
by Norwegian director Sara Johnsen. The multi-award-winning director of Upperdog [+see also:
film profile
wrote and directed this fourth feature film of hers, being shown in competition at the 18th Lecce European Film Festival, with a freshness and healthy and unexpected levity, despite the fact that the film is about abandonment and the painful reconstruction of your roots. A quest for identity that blends together with a reflection on human relationships, biological and otherwise, on emotional relationships full of contradictions and shadows, and on the role of media in bringing hidden truths to light.

The premise is a hard-hitting one: Unn Tove (played by Swedish actress Tuva Novotny, who we recently saw in The King’s Choice [+see also:
film review
interview: Erik Poppe
film profile
and will soon see in Borg vs. McEnroe) is about to get married, but is in love with someone else. At her wedding reception, distressed, she goes to the bathroom and finds a newborn baby abandoned on the floor, covered in blood. The story ends up on the front page of the local papers, with a picture of Unn Tove in her wedding dress covered in blood, standing next to the ambulance. Then there’s a huge temporal leap, to 16 years later. Unn Tove is separated, has two children and hosts a TV show on relationships, love and sex. A mysterious girl turns up on her doorstep: it’s Rosemari (played by first-time actress Ruby Dagnall), the little girl she found in the bathroom years earlier. Unn Tove suggests helping her to find her mother and find out more about the circumstances of her birth, and to dedicate an episode of her show to her story.

The apparent cynicism of this undertaking is the first disorienting element of the film, followed by others, including uncomfortable revelations and unexpected twists. From then on, the film turns into a sort of road movie in which the personal quest blends into the journalistic enquiry, but also one in which, when necessary, the camera is conveniently switched off. Eyewitness accounts are alternated with real life footage, shot through the lens of the camera shouldered by Unn Tove or during the editing stage, and unfortunately this device ends up creating distance and tempering the viewer’s empathy. 

Young Rosemari, who is beautiful despite her shabby look and androgynous face, receives one unsettling piece of information after the other about her origins, perhaps more than what is humanly bearable for a teenager in the space of just a few days. And yet the film never slides into drama, and keeps its upbeat tone, especially thanks to the shining dialogues between the prudish Unn Tove and her more brazen friend and colleague (played by Norwegian actress Laila Goody), on men, the mother-daughter relationship, Fifty Shades of Grey, and so on and so forth.

There is a debate on love and sex that runs the length of the entire film, and to some extent creates a parallel between the past of Unn Tove and that of Rosemari’s mother, a past full of conflict, uncertainty and contradictions, firmly planted in emotion (the cast also features Danish actor Tommy Kenter, in the role of a former boxer recycled into a porn film producer). Finally, there’s the choice to expose one’s personal life to the media, which is incomprehensible for many reasons, given the delicate nature of the reconstructed events and the young age of the main character, which perhaps warranted greater development.

Framing Mom is a production by Norwegian company 4 1/2 Fiksjon in co-production with Danish company Nimbus Film and German company The Match Factory. The film has already been released in Norway and Denmark, and will be distributed in Germany on 20 April.

(Translated from Italian)

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