J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fantastic Fest ’14: Norway

Zano is the worst sort of over the hill hipster. He is a vampire. Technically, he is not getting any older, but he is still not maturing much either. Yet, he somehow comes across rather world weary and sad. Much to his own surprise, Zano will learn even he has an ethical line he will not cross in Yannis Veslemes’ feverishly odd Norway (trailer here), which screens sometime during the 2014 Fantastic Festival.

It is 1984 and disco still rules Athens’ nightclubs. Zano has come for some hedonism, but he cannot connect with the mortician friend who is supposed to be his host. Making his way to a low-rent discotheque, Zano drinks, dances, and strikes out with live-bodied women he puts the moves on. In the process, he crosses paths with a former actor-turned gangster and a fellow vampire who looks even sicklier than he does. However, things really get complicated when he meets Alice, an earthly party girl, who is also a bit of a predator herself.

Frankly, they have a rather awkward introduction, considering the way Zano chomps down on the neck of her Norwegian drug dealer, Peter. Yet, somehow they both go off into the night together, pulling along the zombie-like Peter as he undergoes the undead transformation. It seems Zano will eventually get what he wants from Alice, but he suspects she might be have a secret agenda, which of course she does.

It is hard to believe Norway and popular franchises like Twilight, True Blood, and Vampire Diaries share any sort of kinship, despite their common ostensible subject of vampires. From the trance-inducing music to the hazy ultra-1980s cinematography, Norway is more of a contact-buzz than a proper horror film. There is no denying the stylishness of Veslemes’ approach, particularly his undisguised use of model trains during Zano’s travel sequences. Cinematography Christos Karamanis gives it all an unusually striking look that evokes classic film noir and vintage comic art.

Yet, probably Veslemes’ most bizarre ingredient is the scruffy hound dog Vangelis Mourikis, head-bobbing his way through the film as Zano. Somehow Mourikis and Veslemes successfully walk a fine line, making their protagonist vampire a total loon, but not so far out there we can’t relate to him on some hard to define level.

This is the sort of film that will have you thinking to yourself “this is so weird” from start to finish. Arguably, the plot is not so over-the-top when compared to other genre films (although it takes a seriously outrageous turn), but it is just executed in such a distinctively whacked-out (but mostly accessible) manner. In fact, the vibe is so overpowering, viewers might not fully realize how strangely good Mourikis is. Highly recommended for adventurous genre fans, Norway will screen sometime during this year’s Fantastic Fest, running through this coming Thursday (9/25) in Austin, Texas.

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