Welcome to Norway!: How to strike it rich with 50 refugees
by Fabien Lemercier
- Norwegian director Rune Denstad Langlo brings us a smart, unassuming and tender comedy on tolerating and welcoming immigrants
"It’s total chaos here now!". Shiites, Sunnites, Lebanese Druzes, Iraqis, Syrians, Russians, an Ethiopian protestant, Hindus, Buddhists, foreign nationals from Burundi, etc. 50 refugees in total fill the corridors and rooms of the former Hotel Nøro, a crumbling establishment off the beaten track in the North of Norway managed by Primus, a penniless local with a primitive sense of racism whose appetite for profit is his only motivation for turning the place into a refugee centre. These are the basic ingredients of Welcome to Norway! [+see also:
interview: Rune Denstad Langlo
film profile] by Rune Denstad Langlo, the third feature by the Norwegian filmmaker after North [+see also:
interview: Rune Denstad Langlo
film profile] (awarded the Europa Cinemas label and the FIPRESCI prize in the Panorama section of the Berlinale in 2009), and Chasing the Wind [+see also:
film profile] (2013).
Shown this week in competition at the 17th Arras Film Festival, this new opus by a director who loves working with a realistic and restrained humour tinged with a touch of melancholy this time touches on a delicate current issue – immigration – a subject which continues to make waves in Europe, fuelling frictions between a spirit of hospitality and helping your fellow man and the stink of national interests, fuelled by the fear of the unknown and blind racism. A fertile ground that has already give rise to scores of film dramas and can easily slip into anything from caricature to naive optimism when made into comedy. Pitfalls that Rune Denstad Langlo avoids rather deftly, without sacrificing his benevolent approach to the characters but without trying to dramatise things either, contenting himself with small discreet touches that remind us of the brutality of the events that forced these migrants into exile.
Rather than take a “moralistic” stance, the filmmaker sticks to a human level, filming the “forced” relationship between his protagonist Primus (played by the outstanding Anders Baasmo Christiansen – who also starred in North and did a fine job in the recent The King's Choice [+see also:
interview: Erik Poppe
film profile]), and all these "darkies" as he calls them at the beginning of the film, who could bring him 100,000 krona a year ("we’re going to be millionaires"; it pays better than tourists") if he can get his establishment accredited as a refugee centre. But this obviously turns out to be far from simple, and Primus, who is not a bad guy at heart, just narrow-minded and drunk on bias ("it won’t be a walk in the park: drugs, rape, terrorism...") must back down in his exchanges with the migrants. So he gradually enters into a form of co-management (not without conflict) to improve daily life, a rapprochement that prompts Primus to reflect on his own life ("you don’t have any friends, your wife and daughter don’t want anything to do with you, the refugees hate you. Only your parents love you and they’re dead")...
Strewn with amusing and very down-to-earth incidents (the dividing up of the rooms, negotiations to avoid or meet the demands of the refugees, the flickering electricity, etc.), Welcome to Norway! effectively conveys its humanist message, making sure to make us smile just the right amount without going to outrageous excess, as the issues at the heart of the film are obviously nothing to laugh about. A balance that makes this film accessible to everyone and is livened up by very fluid direction. Director of photography Philip Øgaard most notably makes his mark on this feature, produced by Motlys, which will be released in France on 7 December by Eurozoom.
(Translated from French)
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