Dir. Bard Breien. Nor. 2007. 79mins.
The script Bard Breien wrote for The Art of Negative Thinking, blackly comic debut, may have been intended for the screen, but it could work as well, if not even better, on the stage.
Dealing with the type of material that Scandinavian cinema seems unusually comfortable with, it displays for a while a refreshingly unceremonious approach to the plights of the physically impaired, but settles down midway into a conventional psychological drama in which every character reveals their pent-up anger and frustrations before they all learn to live with themselves and their limitations.
Though it never quite delivers the emotional wallop it promises, it is cleverly written and put across with gusto by a top cast. As such it should easily find its place among next year's festival habitues - Breien took best director at Karlovy Vary - while a modest theatrical career will be followed by a more lucrative one on TV.
Geirr (Saheim), who lost the use of his legs in a car accident which has also left him sexually impaired, wallows in oceans of self pity, shuts himself from the rest of the world, listens to Johnny Cash, watches war movies on television and plays around with a gun, broadly hinting that suicide is an option.
Trying to pull him out of this blue funk, his girlfriend, Ingvild (Torhaug) asks a municipal therapy group to come over for an evening and share some of their thoughts with her partner. Led by the handsomely energetic, self-confident fortyish Tori (Holmen), the group is constantly told to seek the proverbial positive grain of sand in a sea of despair, using such slightly ridiculous formulae as 'focus on the solution, not the problem' for guidance.
This works until they get to meet the angrily rebellious Geirr, who refuses to take all this nonsense. Tori's perfectly organised procedures fall apart one after the other, as her patients refuse to listen to her any longer and she is brutally kicked out. For the rest of the night, each member of the group takes turns unloading to the rest their real and imaginary grievances with a vengeance.
Lillemor (Simonsen), an upper middle-class woman in her sixties has been rejected by friends and family after her divorce and desperately seeks company and comfort but hates to admit it. Asbjorn (Schaaning) was swindled out of everything he had, suffered a stroke which left him mentally and physically paralysed, and is looks for someone he can trust.
Marte (Ottesen), a pretty blonde with a fixed grin, is paralysed from the neck down following an accident caused by her husband's negligence and wants nothing more than to get rid of her countenance and the her partner as well; her husband (Mestad), emotionally crippled by guilt, reveals his true ugly colours when he makes a play for Ingvild, after announcing he does not intend to be chained to an invalid for the rest of his life.
Once the group discover, thanks to Geirr, the delights of negative rather than positive thinking, they proceed to take his home apart, boozing, smoking pot and breaking everything in their reach all night. By the morning they come to terms with the idea that there is no rosy light waiting for them at the end of the tunnel, and that they better accept whatever life has to offer inside the tunnel itself.
Denying his characters the comfort of feeling sorry for themselves in no uncertain manner, Breien's approach gives the audience a jolt to begin with. But once the script exhausts all its live ammunition - and that doesn't take too long - it reverts to blanks, which may match the wit but not the impact of meaningful repartees.
Unity of time and place stresses the theatricality of the screenplay, showcasing the cast, led by the sterling performances of Saheim, Simonsen and Schaaning, who make the best of every line and noise they are required to deliver. The role of the camera in this case is mostly illustrative but Zkalina Stojcevska's briskly alert scissors make sure any unnecessary lengths are deftly snipped off.
Majpo Film & TV Produksjon
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Stein Berge Svendsen
Marian Saastad Ottensen
Kirsti Elin Torhaug