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NIFFF 2020

Review: Breaking Surface


- Sweden’s Joachim Hedén presents his first genre film - claustrophobes beware!

Review: Breaking Surface
Moa Gammel in Breaking Surface

For his latest film Breaking Surface [+see also:
interview: Joachim Hedén
film profile
, Swedish director Joachim Hedén decided to set himself a new challenge: to make a genre film that’s half claustrophobic escape game and half underwater huis clos. Presented in an international premiere at the NIFFF - which has opted for an exceptional, 100% digital edition running 3 – 11 July - the film was shot in the evocative, freezing waters of the Norwegian Lofoten islands and the tremendous reservoir housed within Belgium’s Lites film studios.

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Breaking Surface is an aquatic thriller with three female protagonists (played by Moa Gammel, Madeleine Martin and Trine Wiggen) who contrast perfectly with traditional notions of “femininity”, which are all too often confined to the sterile realm of gender binarity, systematically associating the concept with quietness and passivity. Whilst the real action starts when the two half-sisters Ida and Tuva dive into the icy waters of the North, the film takes the time to depict the personalities of all three characters - the sisters and their mother, with whom they share a complicated bond – so as to help the viewer identify with the characters, thereby heightening the feeling of terror we experience later on.

The nightmare begins a few days after Christmas, when Ida and Tuva (the latter a deep-sea diver by trade) decide to take the plunge in a remote Norwegian fjord. For them, diving is more than a sport, it’s a part of their family history, something that links Tuva to her mother indissolubly, leaving Ida - who nearly left her sister to drown as a child – out in the cold. As such, this little adventure is an opportunity for them to share a passion which has often pitted them against one another. Testing their own limits together, what the two sisters truly desire is to be close. But their aquatic expedition swiftly turns into a nightmare when a rockslide leaves Tuva trapped underwater amidst the dark and menacing watery depths. At this point, the film turns into a race against time whereby Ida turns into a super heroine, of sorts, willing to do anything it takes so as not to leave her sister to drown (for the second time). Hyperthermia and the disastrous consequences of countless dives and rapid ascents are constant risks for Ida, just as an ongoing lack of oxygen menaces Tuva’s survival.

As with every self-respecting genre film, Breaking Surface keeps viewers glued to the edge of their seats from the beginning right on through to the end, devising ingenious situations which constantly delay the (positive or negative) outcome of the drama. Purged and purified, like the landscapes inhabiting its images, the film forces its protagonists to explore their fears (which we share in harrowing fashion) to the full. There are no other characters - apart from Tuva’s dog, who treats us to an extraordinary performance – to distract us from the excruciating drama that Ida is living through. Her animal instinct (a far cry from gender classifications in all their forms) seems to heighten with every passing second until she becomes a living embodiment of action. Tempted to flee from this angst-inducing nightmare but unable to do so, viewers are forced to confront their own anxieties and voyeuristic tendencies in an effective and unforgiving toing and froing of action. A worthy representative of the fascinating world of genre films, Breaking Surface shows us just how much the field has to offer in the way of formal sophistication.

Breaking Surface is a co-production between Norway (Weggefilms), Sweden (Way Feature Films AB) and Belgium (Umedia), with international sales in the hands of TrustNordisk.

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(Translated from Italian)

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