Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
New Nordic Cinema: It’s Only Make Believe
Norway, the criminal justice system is naturally all about rehabilitation.
Unfortunately, underworld types are not so likely to forgive and forget. Indeed,
they are rather inclined hold a grudge as one single mother trying to go
straight learns in director-screenwriter-cinematographer-editor-production
designer-whatever-else-needed-to-be-done Arild Østen Ommundsen’s It’s Only Make Believe (trailer here), which screens
this week as part of the New Nordic Cinema series at Scandinavia House.
Jenny tells her scruffy boyfriend Frank she is pregnant, he responds with a not
completely freaked out proposal, complete with a nicked engagement ring. It is
a nice moment, but it will not last. The two mildly delinquent lovers continue
on their mission to retrieve a bag of drugs from a greenhouse for a dodgy pal. Unfortunately,
it turns out to be a much heavier situation than he led them to believe. Guns
will be discharged, leading to at least one corpse and a very pregnant Jenny serving
a ten year prison sentence.
her incarceration, Jenny still comes to know her daughter Merete, a
ridiculously angelic little girl, who never seems to resent her mother’s
criminal history. However, when the model prisoner is finally released, Merete’s
foster mother will not just automatically hand her over. She will have to
demonstrate stability and a healthy living environment, which her
plumbing-challenged family home is definitely not. The drug-dealing thugs
demanding Jenny pay off her “debt” from the misadventure in the greenhouse will
not help either.
are moments of jarring violence in Make
Believe, as well as pastoral time-lapse interludes, accompanied by ever so
sappy soft alt rock tunes. Obviously, the
violence is more palatable. While it has its goey moments, the film is not likely
to be confused with a fairy tale, as the English title vaguely implies. Ommundsen
never turns away from man’s predatory nature, suggesting it is nearly
impossible for a straying waif like Jenny to break out of her vicious cycle.
The thug who adopts the name “Eddie Vedder” is also a nice touch.
Salomonsen is acutely compelling as Jenny, even when her character makes
forehead-slappingly bad decisions. She certainly expresses her motherly
instincts, which is absolutely essential. Make
Believe also benefits from a number of understated but keenly sensitive
supporting turns, especially including Tomas Alf Larsen as Gary, her formerly
chubby high school chum, who still carries a torch for her. The look and
demeanor of Egil Birkeland’s “Vedder” is quite something, as well.
So yes, it is a bummer to be an ex-con, even in
Norway. Make Believe covers some
familiar territory, but Ommundsen and Salomonsen still steadily pull us into
this very human drama. Recommended for those with a taste for tragic
naturalism, It’s Only Make Believe screens
in New York at Scandinavia House this Wednesday (2/26) and Friday (2/28) and
also during this year’s upcoming Cinequest (on 3/6, 3/9, and 3/13) in San Jose.
Labels: Norwegian Cinema, Scandinavian Cinema