After seeing the trailer a couple of times, I had no real idea what to expect. Having seen the full film, I’m not much closer.
A 13-year old boy returns to his mother (Astrid) after a week’s absence. The mother is still grieving the loss of her theatre director husband a couple of years before. She is occasionally extremely harsh with her kids, screaming at her young daughter for trying to cook and making a mess of the kitchen, and throwing both kids out on the street when they get on her nerves.
Meanwhile, various unconnected stories develop. Astrid buys her son a bike, then tries to sell it back when it doesn’t work properly. She goes swimming with her daughter, filmed mainly in longshot. She sleeps with her daughter’s tennis coach, then goes to watch them playing tennis. She breaks down at her husband’s grave to the sound of M Ward’s melancholy version of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. Another couple quarrel because he wants kids and she feels a calling to be alone and lonely.
In amongst these scenes, a group of schoolkids play out Hamlet, wrongly emoting their lines as only kids can. I’ve read various reviewers tear themselves in knots trying to work out who are the Hamlet, Gertrude and Ophelia in the film. I find this sort of comparison to be almost always a waste of time – either the connections are too tenuous to be of any use, or you may as well forget watching the film and see a performance of Hamlet instead.
Anyway, its an unholy mess, but you get the feeling that the chaos has been deliberately planned. The film starts and end with a dog and a donkey, which I’m sure will be lauded by the people who want incongruity for its own sake, and indeed it is actually quite funny if you don’t think too hard.
And this is the thing about the film for me. I really want to hate it – just as I’m sure that I hate the people who will exalt it on barely-read blogs for the élitist reason that they understand all the knowing film references and us plebs out there don’t. And yet, although for large periods of time I was deeply irritated, it kept drawing me in and intriguing me in the same way that the trailer did.
Here’s a case in point. Astrid has a long row with a foreign film maker for a film in which he has put terminally ill patients next to actors. This is pure inauthenticity she screams, as, since all actors are liars, only the dying people are providing real truth. This is followed by a discussion about the possibilities of absolute and personal truth.
Now when you hear this at first, you get the feeling that its deeply pretentious nonsense but the more you think of it, there might actually be something there. In her day job, the director writes about film (quite ironically, her specialist subject is dramatic narrative, of which there’s little to find here). So you do get the feeling there is something to be said, in between the often deeply boring longueurs, if only she could find a better way of expressing it.
I was never fully convinced, but I can’t thoroughly dismiss it either. Give it a go, if you think its the sort of thing for you, but don’t go and write a long and pretentious review afterwards (that’s my job, after all)