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BLACK NIGHTS 2018 First Feature Competition

Review: As I Fall

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- Norwegian director Magnus Meyer Arnesen’s first feature is a brand-new spin on familiar tropes

Review: As I Fall
Preben Hodneland in As I Fall

Already presented at Tallinn’s very own Baltic Event Co-Production Market in 2016, As I Fall [+see also:
trailer
interview: Magnus Meyer Arnesen
film profile
]
has now made it all the way to the First Feature Competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, and rightly so – although the story may seem familiar, Norwegian director Magnus Meyer Arnesen manages to avoid the usual Man and Boy-like schmaltz. Instead, he concentrates on a struggling addict, Joachim (Preben Hodneland), who is suddenly forced to look after a son he never really cared for after his mum gets busted for keeping a significant (though apparently not her own) stash at home. While Arnesen certainly likes the people he shows here and – a big feat for any Scandi director – even allows himself to be tender sometimes, he has no qualms about demonstrating their many faults. While he renders the full-blown, balloons-and-funny-hats kind of a happy ending understandably out of their reach, he leaves just enough hope for them to keep going.

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Inspired by his own personal experiences, As I Fall is as much about unexpected fatherhood as it is about addiction, but without Trainspotting’s visual pizzazz. “They did not start using drugs for any reason they can remember. They just drifted along until they got hooked,” explained William S Burroughs in one of his novels, and that’s exactly how it feels here as well. After years of hardship, for twenty-something Joachim, getting high almost becomes just another one of the daily chores, annoying and not particularly glamorous, revolving around minute-long encounters with dealers, at this point already choreographed to perfection, and desperate “bathroom breaks” – all shot in stark, unforgiving greys by cinematographer Ivan Taim. But just like any other chore one grows a little too accustomed to, it proves increasingly difficult to shake off.

What’s most interesting is that Arnesen immediately ditches the usual “responsible woman, immature man” equation – both of the boy’s parents are equally damaged yet perfectly normal, with almost no one to turn to but each other. This makes Joachim’s transformation that much slower and more painful, and every little success, like finally getting his kid to school on time, seems truly massive. “It may be just what I need,” he says at one point, treating his boy almost like this one last rehab session that could potentially finally cure him. Hodneland captures this desperate selfishness perfectly, keeping all the inner tribulations at bay, save for a few outbursts that hit even harder. It’s a life of painstakingly built balance, a constant game of Jenga, if you will, where all it takes is one comment or a doubting smirk, and everything comes crashing down. And then the only thing left to do is to finally admit one’s mistake.

As I Fall, which Magnus Meyer Arnesen co-wrote with Kristian Landmark, is a Norwegian production by Gyda Velvin Myklebust and Magnus Kristiansen, for DNF Productions AS. It is distributed by SF Studios.

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