Reviewed by Marc Glassman
TIFF 2010 #5. From Scandinavia
Norwegian and Icelandic Auteurs return to TIFF
Home for Christmas
Bent Hamer, director & script based on stories by Levi Henriksen
Starring: Trond Fausa Aurvag, Fridtjof Saheim, Nina Andresen Borud
Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, director & script
Starring; Kristbjorg Kjeld (Mama Gogo), Hilmir Snaer Guonason (the director, her son)
Since the mid ‘90s, Bent Hamer has scored awards at festival with quirky black comedies like Eggs, Factotum and O’Horten. When Home for Christmas starts, it feels like yet another fragmented, odd series of tales from this Norwegian auteur. Indeed, the opening sequence, set during the Yugoslav civil war, is almost unexpectedly brutal in its approach.
As the film continues, Hamer shows another, more gentle side to his storytelling skills. A tale of a street person, who is desperately trying to get home for Christmas, takes a surprisingly pleasant turn when he’s rescued, at least temporarily, by a girlfriend from his youth. A doctor helps an illegal immigrant woman give birth to her child. A recently separated father dresses like Santa Claus to deliver gifts to his kids. A black Muslim girl and a shy Danish boy share a first kiss under the stars.
Levi Henriksen, the author of these tales seems far more mainstream than Hamer. True, a couple of the stories do carry a punch—but not the majority. Robbed of his quirkiness, Hamer shows himself to be a fine film stylist and efficient storyteller. Home for Christmas could certainly do well in Scandinavia during the Yuletide season.
But I hope that Hamer doesn’t expect international sales for this nice—perhaps too nice—film. Robbed of his edge, he seems less a global filmmaker and more a local one.
Icelandic auteur Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s Mama Gogo is a poignant depiction of a family struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. The aging, feisty titular character is shown slowly going downhill as the disease progresses. Not only does Mama Gogo forget things, including drawing the bath causing her house to be flooded, she denounces her family, saying terrible things about her daughters and one daughter-in-law. The sole exception is the apple of her eye, the Director, her son.
Mama Gogo would be relentlessly melancholic if Fridriksson hadn’t decided to play with meta-fiction. For example, he dramatizes the family’s plight by having “the Director’s” new film, about old people escaping from nursing homes, be a flop that needs to be rescued with an Oscar nomination. Actually, Fridriksson’s Children of Nature was nominated for an Oscar and proved to be a big hit (by Icelandic standards).
In fact, most of the playfulness of the film comes from his quirky references. Kristbjorg Kjeld, who plays the mother in the film, actually starred in a romantic road film many years ago called The Girl Gogo so Fridriksson uses footage from the film as flashbacks to Mama’s youth.
Alzheimer’s is a dreadful illness. Watching Mama Gogo struggle to keep her memory and independence makes for sad viewing. Fridriksson and Bjeld do make this film intermittently effective emotionally.
It seems churlish to overly criticize Mama Gogo but this film is not likely to repeat the success of Children of Nature. Alzheimer’s rarely attracts big audiences—which doesn’t mean that the film isn’t worthy of attention. Certainly, it should be a festival success d’estime.