Dir: Anne Sewitsky. Norway. 2015. 102mins


A modest heartbreaker, Homesick chronicles the passionate affair undertaken by a young woman with her half-brother. Eschewing the subject matter’s salacious potential for a compassionate portrait of a person who’s never really found herself, the latest from Norwegian filmmaker Anne Sewitsky is less tawdry than it is a tragedy about loneliness. 

The film isn’t so much about sex as it is about trying to rewrite past hurts.

Sewitsky won Sundance’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in 2011 for her debut feature, Happy, Happy, and she returns to that section for this year’s festival. Homesick’s love affair between siblings may attract art house audiences, but on the whole this film is a sensitive, minor-key character piece marked by strong performances, especially from Ine Wilmann as the quietly floundering protagonist. After premiering at Sundance, the film will open in Norway in late March.

Wilmann plays Charlotte, who seems to have a relatively great life. Enjoying her work teaching dance to children, she’s in a happy long-term relationship with Dag (Oddgeir Thune), the brother of her beloved best friend Marte (Silje Storstein), who’s just gotten married. And yet, she feels a stirring to finally connect with her older half-brother Henrik (Simon J. Berger), whom she never knew. (They share the same mother — Anna, played by Anneke von der Lippe — who turned her back on her first marriage and focused on a life with Charlotte’s father.)

At first, Henrik doesn’t want anything to do with Charlotte — he has grown up resenting the life she had that he feels was denied him — but after they spend an evening getting to know each other, there’s an undeniable spark between them. Homesick devotes most of its running time investigating where that speak leads: Although they know it’s wrong, they begin sleeping together, which means he must hide the affair from his wife and child. (Dag, meanwhile, is off on tour, allowing Charlotte the freedom to pursue the tryst.)

Non-judgmental, which isn’t the same as having no opinion on what’s occurring, Sewitsky spends little time worrying about Charlotte and Henrik’s ethical and moral dilemma, instead invested in exploring why both of them (Charlotte, especially) have decided to engage in this affair.

And it’s here where Homesick is at its most tender and thought-provoking. In several small but important ways, Charlotte has never really had a home. Coping with a dying father and a distant mother who’s always been consumed by her own interests, she’s a single child without much of a family. Not surprisingly, as we learn early on during a toast Charlotte gives at Marte’s wedding, she has had to glom onto others to help give her an identity. (No wonder that Charlotte is in love with Marte’s brother; as Charlotte says, somewhat jokingly, during her toast, she’s wanted to be Marte most of her life.)

With this in mind, Homesick’s incestuous affair is one of emotional need rather than any kinky transgression. This is not to suggest that there isn’t a palpable physical attraction between the two characters — Sewitsky includes a few brief but erotic sex scenes. But even then, the filmmaker wants us to see beyond the copulation to understand the underlying urges and drives.

Which are what, exactly? Teasingly, Homesick never makes them explicit, although the audience can make educated guesses. The opening scene — in which Charlotte complains to a therapist about her mother, expressing a desire to provoke a reaction out of her — carries significant weight later as we begin to wonder if the affair is a way for Charlotte to force her mother to confront her past. Or maybe, because Charlotte’s never felt close to her own family, she is looking to a connection with Henrik as a way to fill that longing?

Wilmann’s performance is a delicate balancing act, needing to elicit sympathy for Charlotte while simultaneously underlining the emotional immaturity that has brought her to this crossroads in her life. The actress is superb portraying a freewheeling, playful spirit who, at long last, comes to realize that she must let go of her insecurities and familial angst if she’s ever going to move forward.

Berger plays Henrik as a bit more of a cipher, which would seem to be a conscious choice. One could surmise that Henrik’s passion for Charlotte is an expression of his longing for a stable childhood. But like much of Homesick, this is left vague, the audience feeling these two characters’ desires intuitively rather than through expository dialogue.

To be sure, Homesick is a bit protracted, as the consequences of the affair finally play out in mostly predictable ways. But despite the lustful chemistry between the two actors, the film isn’t so much about sex as it is about trying to rewrite past hurts. Of course, many relationships are begun, in part, in the hopes that this new lover will help erase the mistake and agonies of those who came before. What makes Homesick stick to the heart is that, for Charlotte, maybe this tryst will finally set her on the right course toward the life she really wanted.

Production company: Maipo Film

International sales: TrustNordisk, www.trustnordisk.com

Producers: Synnøve Hørsdal, Åshild Ramborg

Screenplay: Ragnhild Tronvoll, Anne Sewitsky

Cinematography: Daniel Voldheim

Editor: Christoffer Heie

Production designer: Lina Nordqvist

Music: Ginge Anvik

Main cast: Ine Wilmann, Simon J. Berger, Anneke von der Lippe, Silje Storstein, Oddgeir Thune