Two heterosexual Norwegian men explore their sexuality in Berlin’s Europa Label winner


Source: Berlinale


Dir/scr: Dag Johan Haugerud. Norway. 2024. 125mins

Confession may be good for the soul but it comes with consequences in Dag Johan Haugerud’s Sex. The first film in a planned trilogy, with Dreams and Love to follow, Sex offers a thought-provoking reflection on identity, sexuality and freedom sparked by a simple conversation between two male colleagues. The dialogue-driven, slightly overlong  film won the Europa Cinema Labels award for Best European film at the Berlinale. and has enough dry wit and intriguing ideas to satisfy arthouse audiences. 

Haugerud places great confidence in the quality of his writing, and rightly so

Sex quickly establishes the routine lives of the central characters. We witness chimney sweeps observing safety protocols as they work on the rooftops of Oslo. Work mates dive into a swimming pool as part of their regular relaxation. There is nothing exceptional here. Then we see an unnamed chimney sweep (Thorbjorn Harr) framed against a vast glass window. The camera remains fixed on him in what appears to be a therapy session, as he gradually recounts a vivid dream in which David Bowie has looked at him as if he were a woman. (It could have been God looking at him, but he is increasingly sure it was Bowie.) The notion of being female and an object of desire is alien, uncomfortable but not unappealing.

The slow, modest pan of the camera reveals that he is in a work canteen. His unnamed colleague (Jan Gunnar Roise) responds by sharing his own recent experience. In a matter-of-fact tone he reveals that, the previous day, a male client had casually invited him to have sex. Initially rejecting the client’s advances, he left the building only to return and take him up on the offer. It was his first sexual experience with a man and has left him with similar feelings about being an object of desire and venturing beyond his everyday life. 

The focus stays with Roise’s character who seems to think little of what has happened. After all, it was just sex. In the interests of full disclosure, he has also told his wife (Siri Forberg). It may appear to have been no big deal for him but it opens a floodgate of questions for her. Does he not consider this cheating? Is he gay now? Is he unhappy in their marriage? Where does this leave them? What begins as just two blokes chatting at work blossoms into an existential crisis. They are both middle-aged, heterosexual, married with children and yet is there so much more to them than they ever previously considered?

Cinematographer Cecilie Semec captures light, airy views of a leafy-green Oslo that provide a calming backdrop to the emotional turmoil. It is also a city full of construction sites as buildings are destroyed and rebuilt, perhaps mirroring the lives of the two men. Harr’s character starts to experience physical symptoms brought on by his dreams. His wife (Birgitte Larsen) is more understanding and his teenage son Klaus (Theo Dahl) offers a sympathetic ear whilst instinctively avoiding any stereotypes about what it means to be a man. Roise’s character can feel his marriage breaking apart, but perhaps in a way that might allow it to endure on a different basis. 

Haugerud places great confidence in the quality of his writing, and rightly so. He lets the characters talk, revealing the questions and fears that have started to define them. This creates a slightly static feel to the film but there are unexpected digressions along the way and the dialogue is so wry and amusing that it more than holds the attention. It is also beautifully underplayed by the ensemble cast. In the end, Sex is a compelling exploration of ordinary men trying to figure out who they are permitted to be, how they are evolving and what their lives are all about.

Production companies: Motlys, Viaplay Group

International sales: m-appeal.

Producers: Yngve Saether, Hege Hauff Hvattum

Cinematography: Cecilie Semec

Production design: Tuva Holmebakk

Editing: Jens Christian Fodstad

Music: Peder Capjon Kjellsby

Main cast: Jan Gunnar Roise, Thorbjorn Harr, Siri Forberg, Birgitte Larsen