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Hawaii, Oslo

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Splendid film - surprising, lovely yet gritty, hopeful yet realistic, engrossing.

I hate to say more about it, since it sounds like very few here have seen it, and this is one of those films where it seems best to watch it knowing little about the plot beforehand. But it's well worth bumping it way up on your Netflix queue.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Splendid film - surprising, lovely yet gritty, hopeful yet realistic, engrossing.

My copy's on its way as soon as I finish with Whit Stillman. Meet you boys back here for a chat in a few days!


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Hmmmm.

Well, I enjoyed it. And I really loved the ending.

I liked the complex organization of the film, the way we get so well-acquainted with the layout of the neighborhood, and the way characters are so richly textured and distinct.

And I agree with Doug that the performances are all excellent. I actually liked the Vangelis-style soundtrack, and wondered if it wasn't a deliberate reference to Blade Runner, since we descend into this apocalyptic city much the way we descend into the fiery Los Angeles... And when we get there, we meet characters who "want more life," who will pay anything to get it, and who are frustrated by their own limitations and desire for grace. And, yet again, it culminates in a moment of startling and unexpected grace.

But, as in Crash, the sheer number of crises, and the fact that almost all of these characters are teetering on the edge of sanity, kept me at a distance from the film. In Magnolia, which has even more crises and more spectacular circumstances, at least some of the characters are stable enough for me to understand. Phil Parma (Hoffman), for example... and Officer Jim Curring (Reilly).

In this film, almost all of the characters are are coping with severe emotional, spiritual, or psychological damage. Even Asa, who is the closest of all of them to being relatively stable, is so fractured that her only hope for a meaningful relationship seems to lie in bonding with poor Leon, who is broken almost beyond repair. Maybe this is more my own problem... an unfamiliarity with the "normal" of what life is like in Oslo. Or maybe the filmmaker just likes to put a bunch of mental cases in a bottle and shake it up to see what will happen.

Okay, I know that I'm overstating it there, but more and more films are making me feel that way. When I find that I keep having to reassess just how messed-up these characters really are, it causes me to step back from the story, rather than drawing me in. I felt the same way watching 21 Grams and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. By populating a film with traumatized or mentally fractured characters, a filmmaker runs the risk of turning it into a freakshow, or of trivializing his characters into mere metaphors for various problems. Usually, these films hold our attention by the gravity of their bizarre spectacles rather than through meaningful exploration.

It was hard for me to know whether to accept Vidar's "dreams" as just his particular disorder, or whether he was actually blessed with prophetic visions. (And, as much as I like the ending, I'm torn between accepting his future-seeing as an effective storytelling flourish or as a merely convenient plot twist.)

I do think Hawaii, Oslo is meaningful, and even hopeful in spite of the darkness. But at some point I detached from it, looking at it more analytically, unable to suspend my disbelief and allow myself to be caught up in the storytelling any longer. Maybe I'll feel differently a second time through.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Hmm, this didn't feel anything like a 'freakshow' to me - Poppe seems like too compassionate a director for that. In the hands of a hip, detached Hollywood filmmaker, this movie could easily have devolved into one, however.

:spoilers:

:spoilers:

:spoilers:

(Just so you're all forewarned :) )

Maybe this summer's extended heatwave has addled my neurons, but I can't recall a recent film with a clearer Christ figure. In the opening scene at the psychiatric institution, when the heavyset patient has Leon in a headlock, Vidar tells the aggressor, 'Whatever you do to Leon, you do to me,' in retrospect a strong echo of Matthew 25 (Jesus' 'sheep and goats' story). Then, at film's end, Vidar dies a substitutionary death at a pair of crossroads - and from the 'God's eye view' shot, with which the film ends, the crosswalks on either side of Vidar look remarkably like a pair of crosses.

In thinking about it, too, there's a beautiful contrast between the film's beginning and ending. Hawaii, Oslo begins with a God's eye view that descends to a street level view of the various protagonists, who are existing in their own separate, sadly fractured storylines. The final scene then ends with all of the main characters clustered/united around Vidar's body, with reconciliation begun and hope for new beginnings together (Ephesians anyone?); then the camera ascends to a closing God's eye view before fading to the credits. Wow.

To be fair, there are scenes that would also hint at an angelic role for Vidar - the white feathers featured in a couple of key scenes, a scene at the institution where Vidar's upper body is framed by a mirror with wing-like sculpting at the bottom, not to mention a couple of scenes that overtly mention angels - but then again, the Second Person of the Trinity is called the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, right?

Again, I may be ssstttrrrrettttcccchhhhhing things greatly here, but with all of these 'clues' scattered throughout, akin to the repeated allusions and overt mentions of Exodus throughout 'Magnolia,' I have to wonder if Poppe had something like this in mind.

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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:spoilers:

Nah, on second thought, I'm not stretching the point here. My wife and I just finished watching this again tonight. Here are a couple of lines from the first scene with Vidar and Leon:

Leon (rehearsing for his meeting with Asa): I love you

Vidar: How can you say it to her, if you can't say it to me?

and

Leon (to Vidar): Can't you just take my place tomorrow?

OK, now I'll shut up...

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Andrew, I agree totally. The God's-eye view works well here, in contrast to, say, Eye of God, where it seemed blunt and obvious, in light of the film's title (although it's been nearly a decade since I saw Eye at the theater; maybe I'd change my mind were I to watch it again today)

I tried to make that image of Vidar, framed in the mirror, with those "angel wings," my new avatar, but succeeded only in losing my previous avatar, which I could not put back once I'd removed it!

I should stick to watching movies, and not trying to fix what ain't broke.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Yes! Thank you, Christian. I needed some validation there, as I felt alone and out on a limb with my recent comments. As you might've guessed from my enthusiasm, this film is a newfound favorite (which I just bought on eBay for $9.99 - sweeet...).


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Andrew, I remember wondering early on if Vidar WAS an angel, and the mirror shot was a very deliberate shove into thinking about the spiritual drama going on. I liked that aspect of it, and the film fill me with an urgency to find some grace for these characters. Perhaps it's just the accumulation of films about communities of not just broken but severely broken people that is making me weary of such stories. I don't know. It's definitely a well-made film.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I'm glad you like the film so much, Andrew, and of course, I think your reading is unmistakable and wholly intended by the filmmakers; the young girl who comforts the two children is also a mysteriously transcendent, healing figure, yet their precise nature is left to speculation, which is a good thing--I think--for this particular picture. This isn't a Wings of Desire fantasy, but an earthbound examination of everyday lives in difficult circumstances.

Okay, I know that I'm overstating it there, but more and more films are making me feel that way. When I find that I keep having to reassess just how messed-up these characters really are, it causes me to step back from the story, rather than drawing me in.

I'm not sure what you mean by "messed up"--with the exception of Leon (who seems like he's emerging in a very healthy way--I don't agree at all that he is "broken beyond repair"), all the characters seem like normal, imperfect people to me, trying to navigate their emotions, hopes, and fears as they face serious life issues. I admire the way Poppe refrains from judging them and instead allows each character a chance to live and breathe.

But I think this is a serious question critics should acknowledge; whether we're judging the filmmakers' perspectives or the characters' perspectives. While we should invariably do both on different levels, the former testifies to a work's artistic quality while the latter only has dramatic implications. I would hate to think of how many of my favorite movies with imperfect characters I'd have to dismiss if I couldn't make that distinction.

Having said that, I had deep empathy for all the characters in the film, with the exception perhaps of the manipulative jailbird who clearly hasn't reached a point of personal reckoning yet. I cared deeply about the cards they had all been dealt and the resilience they expressed in their determination to take chances, grow, and endure. I saw parts of myself in all of their struggles.

Edited by Doug C

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::the young girl who comforts the two children is also a mysteriously transcendent, healing figure...

Yes, I recall the scene where she and Vidar tell each other (in effect), 'You're not who you seem to be." And the scene where she embraces Mikkel (the eldest of the two orphans), dissolving his toughguy shell, is incredibly powerful.

::...yet their precise nature is left to speculation, which is a good thing--I think--for this particular picture.

I agree completely - in thinking about it, this film almost has the trajectory of a Billy Graham film narrative, but it is much more powerful for avoiding preachiness and overt manipulation towards a particular conclusion. Plus, after two viewings, there's still plenty of mystery in this movie, symbols/motifs that were obviously significant to the filmmakers, yet whose significance eludes me and prods me to further reflection. (Examples of this include the fact that Mikkel is spraypainting 'I Am' all over Oslo.)


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I think I'm out of time to read the rest of the thread right now, though i desperately want to. When I get home tonight. Meanwhile, I have to jot this down. I know the comparison gets made to MAGNOLIA - obviously, the inter-connected multi-plot structure, and the miraculous element, though I also see similarity in the ambulance driver / suicidal mom to Jim Kurring and Claudia. Also, the significance of weather, though much less interwoven in HAWAII OSLO.

But the stronger comparison, i think, is with Tom Tykwer. In fact, i think I see a number of intentional nods in TT's direction. The opening flyover shot of the city is right out of HEAVEN, and the final ascending shot is very reminiscent of the conclusions of both HEAVEN and PRINCESS + WARRIOR. There are resonances of the mental asylum in P+W with Karibu, the place where Leon lives, though the latter doesn't have the dark connotations - nevertheless, a place for a character to get free of, to leave behind and emerge into the bigger world. Bank robberies in LOLA and PRINCESS and HAWAII OSLO, and people desperate for cash before a time deadline. Leon always running (I'm thinking, RUN LEON RUN), and the nearly precise convergence of events (with subtle but essential changes) at the ending with the "dream" sequence at the beginning certainly evokes LOLA's reiterations, though with different significance.

I liked the movie somewhat on first viewing, but - maybe I was too dialled up on the spiritual expectations - the whole

angel business

I spotted right away, and therefore at least the plot tricks/revelations seemed (I hate to admit) a little obvious, some of the thematic stuff too "on the nose." But I watched it closely again today, and was able to pay less attention to the mechanics and just appreciate the human stories, and they're marvelous. Really landed, second time around.

And the Tykwer resonances don't hurt at all!

Now I've got to return my copy to Videomatica and find out where I can buy myself an affordable copy. Must share!


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Some things in the Variety review that make me think there's another version of the film circulating (perhaps the original Norwegian theatrical release, judging by the prognosticating tone and Sep 2004 date of the article: still, he notes a 120 min running time, and the Film Movement dvd runs 1:59:50 to the end of the credits), or else I missed stuff, or else the reviewer made stuff up.

Anybody pick up on...

"One of the inmates is Leon (Jan Gunnar Roise), a kleptomaniac."

or

"...suicidal ex-celeb Bobbie-Pop (Petronella Barker)..."

I noticed panic attacks, and a certain shall we say compulsive quality. I didn't notice kleptomania.

And the suicidal woman. The envelope she's given is addressed to "Boudil Poulsson," but I don't remember her ever being called Bobbie in the film, and certainly not Bobbie-Pop. Nor did I pick up anything about "ex-celeb." Anybody?

*

Some bits from my viewing notes. I'm going to spoilerize all of them, since I agree with Doug, Andrew et al - the less one knows about this one going into the film, the better.

0:00

KALEIDOSCOPE 1: brown. (Look closely)

1:02 Flyover, like HEAVEN

2:12 keys, beginning of dream sequence

5:42

VIDAR: Be nice. Whatever you do to Leon, you also do to me.

5:53 Cut to VIDAR's office, globe in foreground, Hawaii

6:00 feathers

LEON: You're my guardian angel.

VIDAR: Knock it off, Leon.

then

LEON: Tell her the truth. Pretend that I'm Asa. Say it to me. Three words... Look at me, Leon. I love you. If you can't say it to me, how can you say it to her?

8:11

LEON: Vidar. Can't you just take my place tomorrow?

fingers a feather on the floor

9:36

VIDAR in "angel wing" mirror

then

RADIO: The weather in Oslo will be hot... chance of thunderstorm...

10:26

V: I have dreamt she won't show up.

11:03

Does he ever sleep? DORTE describes Grandfather death dream

11:40

KALEIDOSCOPE 2: colourful tropical flowers

then, to the paper girl

MAGNE: You have keys. You can open all kinds of doors.

13:22

That stroke patient. He was standing at the window on the tenth floor waving to his sons. He got dizzy, fell out, and died. The oldest son, who waved back to his father, thought it was his fault.... etc

17:21

Don't tell me. It's a boy?

19:11

You never know how much time you have to share...

Remember to cherish this moment. Every moment.

What do you mean by that?

Cherish the moment.

That's what we're doing. Get him out of here.

22:28 funeral clipping, giving incomplete date as "tirstag juli"

26:55

KALEIDOSCOPE 3: flowers

29:05

DOCTOR: ties to mother are broken... (we saw the father cut the umbilical cord, so this is a pointed bit of information)

32:45

LEON: Did he dream that Asa isn't coming? (DORTE avoids answering)

43:22

V: Do you ever visit the people you save?

AMBULANCE DRIVER: Are you crazy?

V: Go visit her... Never stop saving them.

45:46

LEON: I want to stay. Asa's coming. She saved me from the wave machine.

(surfers, waves on posters on wall behind him)

49:54

BABY'S MOTHER: This is something you can't fix. He has just a few hours to live. I don't want you to waste them.

54:48 suicidal mother looks at funeral clipping in hospital. Now the date is "fredag 8. august" (I can't imagine that's significant, more likely a prop gaffe. But odd.)

1:00:54 KALEIDOSCOPE 4: Flowers

1:05:15 The funeral: "For thine is the kingdom..."

Paper girl sings in choir loft, white light

1:11:43 to the paper girl

MAGNE: It's you, isn't it? You sing like an angel.

1:18:14

FRODE: Who decides who gets to live?

1:20:26

MILLA (baby's mother) to FRODE: You have to stop dreaming! Wake up.

(Interesting resonance with VIDAR)

1:26:08

VIDAR: I can't help anyone right now.

FRODE: I'm not a guy who believes in mysteries. But I want to believe in something... You dreamed...

VIDAR: I don't believe in anything... I need to sleep.

(This seems like a fairly major shift in VIDAR which doesn't seem to have been established in the prior dramatic action. I guess he's just tired from not having slept, but it plays as a narrative glitch: there's a building block missing.)

1:27:48 paper girl embraces MIKKEL

1:29:20 KALEIDOSCOPE 5: Brown again (look close)

(I'd be interested to try and figure out just how the kaleidoscope graphics are being used. Perhaps this return to the opening brown one launches the film's third act? though I'd almost wonder if it should have been saved back for the beginning of the sequence that opened the film. Like Doug, I have some questions about the kaleidoscope motif: it doesn't fit aesthetically with the look of the rest of the film, though that's got pluses and minuses, can be seen as a marker of the transcendent element of the film, and certainly they're beautiful; too, the idea of "kaleidoscope of human lives" borders on a cliche, though I'll readily acknowledge my personal aversion to direct symbolism.)

1:33:26

VIDAR: You aren't who you say you are.

PAPER GIRL: Neither are you.

1:47:24

TRYGVE, on the police car hood, yells "Leon!" and things begin to correlate with the opening dream sequence. Added: footage of Asa and the suicidal mom; revelation that the baby is bound for the airport, rather than newly born; the revelation at 1:51:25 that Leon is alive.

ASA: What did you say to him?

LEON: I love you.

(Their clothes match)

Angel feathers blow. Bells, bird whistles signal dawn.

1:54:03

"God shot" evokes HEAVEN and PRINCESS + WARRIOR endings.

(Andrew's right: the crosswalks clearly form stylized crosses.)


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I'm glad you liked it so much, Ron (at least on the second go-round). I, too, thought the characters' intertwining stories were marvelous here, really brought out of the actors' terrific performances across the board. Great pickup on Tykwer - I hadn't made this connection, but the similarities are most definitely there. The character descriptions from the Variety review, on the other hand, sound just plain weird - after a couple of viewings, I didn't see any of that.

As far as getting ahold of a copy of the movie, Film Movement sells it at their website. I picked it up at eBay for considerably less, though. I've actually been looking for a 'Hawaii, Oslo' movie poster (I thought it would look cool in my office), but no luck so far...


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I'm glad you liked it so much, Ron (at least on the second go-round).

I really did. Do. Yesterday and today's really close viewing have made me feel really attached to this little movie. Having finished my write-up, I'm finding myself reluctant to seal it in its mailer envelope and send it back to Videomatica!

I, too, thought the characters' intertwining stories were marvelous here, really brought out of the actors' terrific performances across the board.

Amen. I've come to think that's the film's greatest strength, those performances. The older of the two brothers gets a lot of mention, but I found his younger brother equally compelling in just as challenging, though less "showy" a role. The actor playing Vidar leaves such an indelible impression of weary self-transcendence. I looked at an online resume for the actress who played the suicidal woman - in addition to film credits and lots of Scandinavian tv, she's got a tremendous list of live theatre credits, including several seasons at the National Theatre. And Frode, the father of the newborn: what complexities he manages to convey! Really substantial work, and I'd say not a weak performance in the entire ensemble cast.

The character descriptions from the Variety review, on the other hand, sound just plain weird - after a couple of viewings, I didn't see any of that.

I wonder about the theatrical release - maybe kleptomania and ex-celeb ring some bells for Doug, who saw it at the Palm Springs IFF?

As far as getting ahold of a copy of the movie, Film Movement sells it at their website. I picked it up at eBay for considerably less, though.

Yes, I decided to spring for the Film Movement purchase. I've been watching eBay for some time now, and it tends to list pretty expensive - you were lucky! And the price at Amazon.com is two and a half times times what it is new at Film Movement, where it comes to almost $33. But I decided a while ago that I'd resist buying run-of-the-mill previously viewed films at the local video store and instead save up my money for copies of those movies that I love but just aren't going to get seen if I don't have a copy to show people. The South African film FORGIVENESS, for instance. Or other films that are at really great video rental places like our local Videomatica, but which aren't going to be in stock at the commercial outlets: Dardenne, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Tykwer, that stuff. So HAWAII OSLO ought to be coming to Vancouver, Canada before too long!

Here's the piece I just finished, by the way;

HAWAII, OSLO (2004, Norway, Erik Poppe direction/story, Harald Rosenlow-Eeg story/screenplay)

Do you ever visit the people you save?

Are you crazy?

Go visit her. The woman you almost saved. Never stop saving them.

Vidar is a good man who's haunted by his dreams. Haunted, because they come true. Like the one about the ambulance accident that kills his friend Leon? Which hasn't happened yet, but looks like it's about to.

When Leon is scared, he runs. Tonight, on the eve of his twenty-fifth birthday, he's very scared. He's papered downtown Oslo with posters: his photo, his phone number, and the words "ASA, HUSKER DU MEG?" - "Asa, do you remember me?" If he's lucky, if he's blest, his high school sweetheart will arrive tomorrow, and maybe they will marry. But Leon is convinced that Vidar's dreams say she won't show up. So Leon runs. And Vidar runs after him.

That simple story is at the centre of a kaleidoscopic film that traces the stories of a dozen or more characters until their fates converge on an Oslo street corner one hot summer night. The intricately constructed narrative draws comparisons with other multi-plot films with morality (or even metaphysics) on their minds, MAGNOLIA and CRASH in particular. Doug Cummings, an advocate for this regrettably obscure film, notes that "it resembles a companion piece to Kieslowski's THE DECALOGUE compressed into a two hour feature, less notable for its aesthetic innovations than for its emotional clarity and ethical complexity." What strikes me are the similarities to Tom Tykwer's work

Edited by Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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By the way...

:spoilers:

Didja notice what the older boy is graffitoing (sp?) all over Oslo?

Not until you pointed it out. Nice catch!


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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The trades sometimes seem as if they're written by monkeys, and that's not just because of all their cutesy slang, either. I'm sure the reviewer simply got the details wrong. I also have the Norwegian DVD, and I didn't recall any differences betwee it and the film I saw at PSIFF.

Really nice comments, Ron; I especially like this (and the whole final 'graph): "I think what distinguishes this film from others of its kind is the fact that so many of these admittedly damaged, even desperate characters aren't lost in their own woundedness but are actively, even habitually, striving to make things better for people around them." I fully agree with you and think it's a very solid example of pathos and hope intermingling, very fluidly done; and in the end the hope (or the possibiity of hope) definitely seems to prevail.

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I especially like this (and the whole final 'graph): "I think what distinguishes this film from others of its kind is the fact that so many of these admittedly damaged, even desperate characters aren't lost in their own woundedness but are actively, even habitually, striving to make things better for people around them." I fully agree with you and think it's a very solid example of pathos and hope intermingling, very fluidly done; and in the end the hope (or the possibiity of hope) definitely seems to prevail.

Yes! I came up with that as I mulled Jeffrey's qualms about the film, and as I noticed on close viewing how many times the word "save" was used, by and about so many different characters. Made me realize that not only is Vidar a "saver", but he urges others to follow through on saving each other: there are "savers" all around.


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I only skimmed the thread, as I am no doubt having a late night with Hawaii, Oslo again real soon.

For what it's worth, this is the second film in Poppe's Oslo Trilogy.

The three are: Schpaaa (1998), Hawaii, Oslo (2004), and DeUsynlige, or Troubled Water (2008). One of the quotes at imdb was very interesting regarding DeUsynlige:

"deUsynlige" (something like "The invisibles" directly translated into English)obviously uses "deus" in the meaning of God, and this is also a film with religious themes and setting, this being about guilt, truth and forgiveness. But more reconciliation than forgiveness. Some things can't be forgiven...

Somewhat expectantly, Schpaaa will be a bit hard to track down. I am going to try to find DeUsynlige, and if I do I will begin a new thread. For now, here's the non-English subtitled trailer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djLJpUnyrco

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Aah, DVD Available Feb 2010. Cool.

Love this cover:

DeUsynlige_poster.jpg

Edit, had to add this, thought it was so cute:

"It's absolutely the best movie I have seen in years!" --Michael Moore, Academy Award® winning director

"The performances… are fantastic and the direction is without fault." -- Alec Baldwin, Academy Award® nominated actor

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Love the movie. Question about the ending.

I understand that Vidar sacrifices himself but how does he do it? The ambulance, in the beginning of the movie and the end, is shown to hit Leon. My guess is that's its some sort of supernatural situation, and that certainly fits with his character. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something else.


"I am quietly judging you" - Magnolia

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Love the movie. Question about the ending.

I understand that Vidar sacrifices himself but how does he do it? The ambulance, in the beginning of the movie and the end, is shown to hit Leon. My guess is that's its some sort of supernatural situation, and that certainly fits with his character. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something else.

I'm not certain how I would explain this either. I reference it in a comparison to Heaven Can Wait below, but the "how" is impossible to come up with.

In going back through the trilogy, I've written thoughts on Hawaii, Oslo:

From here on out the trilogy reminds me of an old Terry Taylor phrase: the stories are "a briefing for the ascent." They mesh and intertwine, creating Crash or Magnolia-type intricacies of layers, weaving characters through plot lines that maze into the great beyond. They climb skyward, improving as they ascend, until otherworldly realms are confronted in their final scenes, where conscience, guilt, and redemption collide. Our Norwegian characters will be left carefully considering every future action.

The TV-like production values from Schpaaa are gone and in their wake stand two movies that are a film lover's delight. They're essential viewing for diligent seekers in the art-house crowd, but potent enough for mainstream viewers to get caught up in their ineffable glory.

The maze metaphor extends to physicality in the opening and closing scenes of Hawaii, Oslo. A "God's-eye" view sweeps down over an Oslo intersection where a group of mazed strangers come upon a chance meeting. An ambulance is involved in an accident, apparently on its way to deliver a baby, when a jogger -- more like a sprinter -- bolts out in front of the vehicle. The strangers have already been converging in their differing mazes on the scene as paramedics attempt in all earnestness to aid the run-over victim, but the crash is too severe, and in a heap he breathes his last on the blackened and blood-stained streets. The strangers watch and consider what the accident means to them.

The story backs up to all the witnesses' previous days and the journey of how they arrived at this place at the exact same time. There's no doubt the characters are working out of their own free will -- they're born free in a world made of good and bad choices. However, there's also little doubt that something else is working behind the scenes: angelic guiding figures seem to prompt for the good, while an aura of suspended synchronicity drives events like a guiding force.

That we know the end from the beginning -- (and we really don't, anyway) -- isn't really the point at all. We're brought into lives that are about to converge for a reason; we see all of the hope that this event is going to bring. Those whose lives that will be forever changed at the scene of the crash stand in awe at their inability to help: a mother who long ago abandoned two sons, two sons who are dealing with the loss of their dad, a newborn child that in one day has lost and gained a chance to live, an unbalanced man waiting on a long lost love, an airline stewardess who has completely given up on relationships, a clairvoyant who has already seen all of these events unfold, and a figure that seems to constantly show up whenever someone has need. Everyone has not only something to learn, but something to teach the viewer as well.

There's a film garnering great reviews right now called The World is Big and Salvation Lurks around Every Corner. It feels like it could be the subtitle here. Maybe: Oslo is a Scandinavian city where hardship is reality, but salvation still lurks everywhere... Or something like that. A friend recently pointed out how often the word "saved" is used in Hawaii, Oslo. There are those who need saving, and those, as in real life, who deny they are even in need. We identify with a human longing to be saved. If not "salvation," than certainly sometimes "intervention".

The film suggests that Heaven Can Wait as it hurls us back toward its opening crash. But the "God's-eye" view comes compassionately back, and as in Tykwer's Heaven, we ascend up and out of the scene, until we can barely see characters in the middle of the intersection, until all we can see is the city from high above, until the camera tilts and turns and stares us unquestioningly at the cloudy skies hanging just over Oslo. A golden ray of sunlight is peeking through.

If there ever were a doubt that someone somewhere wasn't guiding us, the question is at this point put to rest. If there were ever a film desiring to relay a graced message, Hawaii, Oslo would probably sit alongside it. Poppe's second film in the trilogy far surpasses any of the missteps of the first, and now we're about to get the roof blown off the joint in the final, gripping trilogy conclusion, which I'll be writing more about tomorrow.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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One shot in the film was tremendously effective: a scene of reconciliation turns suddenly cold and terrifying with the entrance into the frame of a disturbing character. This provoked an audible gasp from the audience -- something I haven't heard since Raymond Burr looked directly at Jimmy Stewart in <i>Rear Window </i>(which I saw with a large crowd, during one of the film's theatrical revivals).

I forgot I wanted to ask about this -- Christian, if you remember (after all, you only wrote it five years ago), which scene were you talking about here?


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I can see it clearly in my mind without remembering who was who in the story. I'd rather not try to get into the details, which would probably only confuse things. But you must know the scene -- it was quite a moment in the movie!


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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