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Review: Norwegian Democrazy


- As Europe deals with the rise of the far right, Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge’s powerful documentary is more urgent than ever

Review: Norwegian Democrazy

What are the boundaries of freedom of speech? Should it still serve as an excuse for hate speeches and racist claims to be “expressed”? When and how can the police intervene? These are probably the three main questions tackled by Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge’s timely documentary Norwegian Democrazy, world-premiered in EFP’s The Changing Face of Europe strand of this year’s Hot Docs.

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As the title suggests, the directorial duo focuses on Norway, which here serves as a true microcosm for today’s Europe. The team zooms in on the clash between free speech and hate speech by following a controversial, provocative, Islam-critical group, the Lars Thorsen-led SIAN – and their protests, which often include the burning of the Quran – and their opponents, including Axel, a young leftist activist and an 18-year-old college student.

The first conflict is plain to see on screen. Whenever Lars Thorsen, a former accountant-turned-political leader, begins screaming and spreading messages of hate – claiming how Islam is a totalitarian ideology and Muslims are more prone to committing crimes, including rape, among other things – the police show up and attempt to protect Lars and his (very few) companions from the predictable anger brought on by their provocations.

Commendably, the two helmers follow Thorsen and Fanny Bråten (his partner, who joins in with Thorsen’s “political battles”) very closely. Despite the highly controversial topic and circumstances they end up witnessing, they both manage to gain great access to the couple, seemingly not judging them while delving into the reasons behind their extreme ideas. This apparently “neutral” approach allows Thorsen and Fanny to feel at ease, and they consequently often let slip the huge fallacies of their mindset and ideology.

This becomes crystal-clear, for example, when the directors ask Thorsen to show some facts and sources that prove that Muslim residents commit more crimes than non-Muslims, and that the local crime-prevention unit stopped publishing the relevant figures when “the rape rate rose to 1,694%”. Thorsen keeps on browsing through his computer’s folders, frantically opening several PDFs and Word files, without finding or showing anything significant.

Aesthetically speaking, the documentary boasts a number of hand-held sequences, wherein the two helmers witness Thorsen’s protests and interactions with the crowd, along with a limited number of controlled interviews acting as a “vox populi” commenting on SIAN’s latest provocations.

Throughout the picture, we can perceive its protagonists’ mounting frustration and anger, which will lead to two crucial moments of confrontation – one occurring between Lars and a few Muslim people reacting to his provocations; and the other between Axel and Thorsen, unfolding in a more relaxed environment.

Linn Heidi Slåttøy’s sharp editing work and Kenneth Ishak’s engaging score enhance the narrative’s tense atmosphere, without spectacularising it. Above all, Norwegian Democrazy is urgent viewing – “urgent” being an adjective that one should always be frugal with when it comes to reviewing films, but which makes sense here owing to the troubled geopolitical context we live in. As Europe – as well as other parts of the world – witnesses the rise of far-right parties and movements, Greenberg and Kjøge’s feature reminds us how easy it is to manipulate people, and trigger new wars among the poor.

Norwegian Democrazy is an Antipode Films AS (Norway) presentation. Journeyman Pictures is in charge of its world sales.

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