Starring Dagny Backer Johnsen. In Norwegian, with English subtitles. Rated PG
Working alongside members of his Vancouver-based band We Are the City, writer-director Andrew Huculiak hit Norway to create this unexpectedly mature work of art. The blunt title is misleading, though, because the main disruptions here are of a metaphysical nature. A vaguely explained “catastrophic event” is enough to trigger deeper thoughts from a young Norwegian woman called Dagny, played by pale, round-faced Dagny Backer Johnsen, whose ability to command the screen belies her years. That matters, because the film—one of the best B.C. feature debuts ever, and one that won festival awards two years ago—sticks with her and is divided into five chapters detailing her experiences with people who’ve mattered in her short life.
“We’re here, but we’re still alone,” she tells a travelling Englishman she meets by chance. That existential stance—grave but still playful—colours the whole enterprise, from warmly human encounters (especially with her loving grandfather in the final segment) to abstract depictions of sound waves, landscapes, details of everyday life, and more surrealistic special effects. These are perfectly supported by the band’s droning music, and by Dagny’s diaristic, voice-over incantations of what she has observed so far.
The cast is mostly first-timers, and not all performances are on a level with those of the lead and newcomer Tor Halvor Halvorsen, unforgettable as the girl’s helplessly creepy new boss, after she moves from the country to midsize Bergen. A few scenes may linger too long for some viewers, but the blue-toned cinematography from Joseph Schweers, who also edited and cowrote Violent, is so varied and adventurous, you have to submit to the film’s spectacularly confident storytelling.
In fact, on my own second viewing, I stopped tracking narrative explanations and went back to my original impressions. This is about a sensitive but untutored young woman, on the cusp of adulthood, who simply comes to recognize the atomizing effect of time—with all people, places, things, and memories hurtling through space, on an ineluctable journey through us and out into the void.