Dir: Eva Sorhaug. Norway. 2008. 86mins.

A few good scenes, some quirky characters and a striking visual style don’t quite add up to a hot meal in Eva Sorhaug’s bite-sized Cold Lunch. Screening as an out of competition title in this year’s Critics’ Week, the Norwegian interlinked choral drama fails to make much of its promising set-up, and represents a mis-hit for screenwriter Per Schreiner after his intriguing 2006 surreal fable The Bothersome Man. But until a poorly-judged moment of ghoulish melodrama near the end, there are flashes of interest in this low-key drama, and Sorhaug’s just-this-side-of-stylised mise en scene suggests that she is a talent to watch.

The film opened in Norway in February to a respectable 75,000 admissions and further small-scale Nordic action seems assured. Adventurous arthouse distributors in the rest of Europe may just bite, but this looks like more of a festival number than a theatrical prospect.

Cold Lunch is divided into chapters with names like ‘Some minor problems arise’ - a touch that is amusing until it gets annoying. At first, we are led to expect a cleverly-plotted puzzle film based on careless accidents like the seagull that soils the jacket of fey, hard-up loser Christer (Hennie), which he is then obliged to wash in the laundry of the next door building. But he forgets that there were banknotes in the pocket, and blows a main fuse in the attempt to stop the washing machine, which leads to the electrocution of the father of pale, reclusive, taciturn Leni (Dal Torp), and a visit from pushy, wife-beating estate agent Odd (Haugen Sydness), who has come to turf Leni out of the apartment so that he can sell it.

If only things continued in this interlocking vein; but around halfway in the writer clearly felt he couldn’t sustain the momentum, and the film loses itself following stories that seem increasingly unrelated to each other.

Of the character chunks, the most involving (largely thanks to the always watchable Hennie) is the story of Christer, who makes the audience teeter between empathy and frustration. He’s a floppy-fringed, androgynous drifter who is unable to pay his rent through anything that looks like work - or to accept a free yacht trip to the Caribbean when it is offered him - but the harsh treatment he recieves at the hands of a succession of bad samaritans swings us back in his favour.

Less successful, because less dramatically credible, are the scenes involving Odd and his wife Heidi (Tjelta), a young mother whose low self-esteem provokes her husband’s violent rage, leading to even lower self-esteem; the fact that a ridiculous deus ex machina was required to wrap this thread speaks volumes.

The only upbeat narrative strand - the agoraphobic Leni’s slow, tentative embrace of the world outside - is beefed up by actress Ane Dahl Torp’s nuanced performance, but ultimately feels rather slight.

Light-filled interiors, careful, painterly framing and a lilting, Chopin-like soundtrack play off provocatively against the often sombre themes, but fail to inject the note of existential allegory that the film is so clearly striving for.

Production company
4 1/2 Film

International sales
(45) 36 86 87 88

Hakon Overas
Aagot Skjeldal

Executive producers
Marius Holst
Karin Julsrud
Aargot Skjeldal
Pal Sletaune
Turid Oversveen
Hakon Overas

Per Schreiner

John Andreas Andersen

Production design
Siri Langdalen

Sophie Hesselberg
Wilbecke Ronseth

Bugge Wesseltoft

Main cast
Ane Dahl Torp
Pia Tjelta
Aksel Hennie
Bjorn Floberg
Maria Bonnevie
Sven Nordin