Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tribeca ’09: North

Those long winters in Northern Scandinavia are not especially conducive to an active social life. Especially not for those predisposed to depression, as is the case for Jomar, the alienated protagonist of North (trailer here), which won the Best New Narrative Filmmaker Award for Norwegian director Rune Denstad Langlo at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Jomar hates his job operating a ski lift and he is not too crazy about life in general. He much prefers the sheltering environment of the local mental hospital to living in the real world. Unfortunately, his doctor declared him sufficiently recovered from his nervous breakdown, so he can visit for a game of ping-pong, but he is good to go.

Not exactly a model employee, Jomar spends his days and nights drinking and moping. It takes a disastrous visit from his former best friend (now married to his ex-wife) to jolt him out of his lethargy. In addition to his wife’s second marriage, Jomar also learns he is a father. After burning his bridges with the ski resort, Jomar decides it is time to meet his son, so he sets out on a trek headed north.

Along the way Jomar meets plenty of eccentric characters and much alcohol is consumed. There is in fact, plenty of quirkiness going on in North. Fortunately, the taciturn Jomar never falls into the trap of saccharine cuteness. He has very real issues, which are convincingly brought out through Anders Baasmo Christiansen’s understated performance.

Langlo and cinematographer Philip Ogaard film some dramatic winter vistas, which demonstrate just how easy it could be to get lost (in every sense) in such surroundings. However, Langlo is a patient director to a fault, sometimes letting his affection for the characters bog down the pace. Yet, Christiansen’s grounded screen-presence keeps viewers invested throughout.

Although the main characters are very different, North bears strong comparison to another Norwegian film, Bent Hamer’s O’Horten, which opens in New York next week. Both films feature rather quiet, slightly off-center characters, looking for their place in the world and encountering various oddball characters in the process. It must be a Norwegian thing. As a Tribeca crowd pleaser, look for future festival engagements and possible distribution for North in the future.