Screw your stuff! You don’t have time
In September of this year I spent my 31st birthday in the Norwegian city of Tromsø, the most northern city in the world. Whilst there I fell in love with Norwegian culture and I can picture myself living there one day. One of the many places I visited during my short stay in the city was the cinema and there I watched Bølgen, a film about an inevitable disaster in the village of Geiranger.
As you would expect with a Norwegian made film, it is in the Norse language and with my Norwegian not being particularly strong, I didn’t really understand most of the dialogue, but you could follow the story easily enough, however, I didn’t want to watch it until I saw it with the subtitles on.
This film has been chosen to be Norway’s representative at the 2016 Academy Awards for “Best Foreign Film”, so is it worth it?
Kristian (Joner) is a geologist in the small village of Geiranger, but he will soon be moving his family to Stavanger to work in a new industry. On his final day at his job monitoring the movements of rocks in the local area, Kristian notices some odd readings and he can’t shake the thought of it as he is driving his children, Sondre (Oftebro) and Julia (Haagenrud-Sande) to the ferry ahead of their move. He turns around and heads back to his now former office.
Idun (Torp) is less than thrilled about her husband’s last minute turn around and whilst she houses Sondre at the hotel she works at, Julia begs Kristian to take her to the house for one last night. Whilst Julia sleeps, Kristian receives word that the geometric readings are going off the charts and as predicted, a landslide occurs, creating a tsunami of around 80 metres high.
The geologists in the area raise the alarm to evacuate Geiranger, but with less than 10 minutes it’s a race against time for everyone to be saved, but Idun and Sondre have more than simply the water to deal with when they become trapped in the hotel’s basement with Philip (Thomas Bo Larsen), a man who blames Idun for his wife’s death.
So, worth of being nominated for the Oscars?
The Oscars are a strange beast in that there have been years when some of the films that have been relegated to simply being “Best Foreign Language Film” have actually been better than some of those that have been nominated for the “Best Picture” nod, but this isn’t one of those occasions.
Bølgen may very well be the best film in Norway over the last few years (I don’t have a lot of basis for comparison just to clarify), but despite an excellent opening 75 or so minutes, the remaining 25 minutes really stretch it out to the point where it went from being near guaranteed being given the “approved” tag, to a film which is drastically let down by it’s final quarter.
Let’s start with the positives though and the brilliant visuals in the film. One of the reasons that I have fallen in love with Norway is that it is a beautiful country. This film captures that beauty wonderfully. Locations are regularly one of the few things that independent/lesser known films beat mainstream films on and Bølgen delivers. Even the massive wave looks fantastic.
The dialogue in the film feels very different from other films and almost genuine. The family have real conversations and very few things in the first 3/4 of the film that doesn’t feel forced. Even the geologists are having more human conversations and you get to know them on some basis, whereas in other disaster films everything is so to the point that there’s no personality to the characters, and you don’t care about them. However, in Bølgen you genuinely feel for the characters and the situation that they find themselves.
In films such as 2012, San Andreas and many, many others of a similar nature, the character building seems to be secondary to the destruction and special effects, but Bølgen is very much the opposite. Even when the wave is created, the film focuses more on the tension of the wave approach, rather than the immediate disaster. For example, Kristian realises he won’t get high enough on a road soon enough, he climbs into a nearby car and watches as the wave very slowly approaches. The tension that builds is done excellent and then the pure chaos when the wave hits is realistic.
Whilst horror might not be the right word, the tension that the film builds as the wave approaches is fantastic, and as soon as the siren is sounded you felt the genuine panic of those that knew what was coming, which is perfectly contrasted by those in the hotel that don’t realise just how serious the situation is and just casually stroll around. The size of the wave also seems very realistic, which makes a refreshing change, and everything about the film feels scientifically accurate. I will caveat that with that I am not a scientist and only got a C.
However, away from the great visuals and excellent character development, the film is just too long and it wains towards the end. Whilst I was engaged for the first and a bit, the last quarter of the film was no different from your typical ending in a Hollywood film, and that was so disappointing. Before then it was easily going to get my approval stamp, but the final 25 minutes are cliched to the point where I forgot (other than the language) that this wasn’t a mainstream film.
The film spent it’s time so well before then in character development and excellent pacing, but the final 25 minutes just became so predictable that it took a lot of the enjoyment out of it, and judging by the IMDB page I am not alone in the sentiment. I hate predictable films and even when I wasn’t sure what was probably being talked about when I went to a non-subtitles viewing, I was still easily able to predict what was going to happen at the end.
Other than that it should have ended 25 minutes earlier than it did, I don’t really have that much to complain about with Bølgen.
Bølgen was twenty-five minutes away from getting an approved stamp. Before that it was genuine, fresh and relatively original. The characters were well developed and built, and you feel like the want the characters to survive.
The film looks fantastic and the locations are brilliant. The terror of the wave approaching is genuine and it creates a genuine atmosphere of tension that is created.
If only it ended twenty minutes earlier.