by Júlia Olmo
- Isabella Eklöf presents a subtle and moving film about pain and the search for redemption
“How can something be so hard and so soft at the same time,” says a father to his son as he performs oral sex on him. In the following sequence, the son is seen in a traditional Greenlandic dance class. The teacher is painting her face for the mask dance. She explains that the mask is made up of three parts: comedy, sexuality and the kingdom of spirits. And three colours: red to symbolise blood and life, black for the kingdom of spirits and the unknown, and white for bones, a memory of our ancestors. Finally, the beautiful and powerful music takes over as the women dances in an animalistic and mysterious way.
This is the impressive (and revealing) opening to Kalak [+see also:
interview: Isabella Eklöf
film profile], the second feature by Swedish filmmaker Isabella Eklöf (director of Holiday [+see also:
interview: Victoria Carmen Sonne
film profile] and one of the scriptwriters for Border [+see also:
interview: Ali Abbasi
film profile]), co-written with Kim Leine and Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen, starring Emil Johnsen, Asta Kamma August and Søren Hellerup. An entry for competition at the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival, this film is adapted from Leine's novel of the same name, based on a true story about a son who was sexually abused by his father as a teenager. Years later, Jan (played by Johnsen) is a middle-aged nurse who decides to move with his family - his wife and two children - to Nuuk (Greenland), where he tries to integrate into the local culture and become a “kalak” - a term with the double meaning to denote both a “true” Greenlandic and a “dirty” one.
Based on the son’s journey to escape his past, Kalak is a film about pain and the search for redemption, about the damage that marks us and stays with us throughout our lives. The film uses the main character’s relationship with three Greenlandic women to look at the intrinsic solitude of humans, the desire to love and be loved and the search for that through sex, recognition and the company of others. Each of the women is different, each one has her ghost and life traumas, but they all share that deep sense of solitude with the protagonist, and that attempt to escape through others. There is a devastating piece of dialogue between Jan and one of those women, which reveals the essence of the film. After asking him to leave, she tells him that she is alone, and he replies that we are all alone, we are all destroyed. This is one of the film's virtues, in those scenes where so much is said with so few words.
Another great achievement in Kalak is how the characters are built up, how the story tells us about their intimacy and the relationships between them through meetings and conversations - what they say and what they don't say. The characters and their complexity are at the heart of this story, their emotions, conflicts, undertones, their contradictory natures and their ability to hurt and love each other at the same time. Despite some affectedness, the narrative is simple and tasteful, with a sombre, existentialist tone, yet with tenderness and a touch of humour, moving between lightness and depth, with the time and the calm pace that this story needs in order to be told, and through the landscapes and soundtrack that also express the essence of this film.
The best thing about Kalak is how subtly it moves the audience. In a way, the film is like a journey, an emotional journey through the heart of its main character, his searching and the loneliness that surrounds him, and with that, his overwhelming exploring of the darkest parts of the soul.
Kalak is produced by Manna Films (Denmark), Mer Film (Norway), Momento Film (Sweden), Film i Väst (Sweden), Made (Finland), Lemming Film (Netherlands) and Polarama Greenland (Greenland), with international sales by Totem Films.
(Translated from Spanish by Alexandra Stephens)
Photogallery 23/09/2023: San Sebastián 2023 - Kalak
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