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Sons of Norway
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by Jay Seaver

"Rebellion can be as tricky as mourning."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Sons of Norway" does as good a job as any movie at presenting the perspective of a kid for whom the world doesn't make sense, and where every attempt at understanding misses the point. It's got a light touch - maybe a bit too much so - but manages to be funny and a bit wise at mostly the right points.

Rykkin, Norway, Christmas 1978. A family is having a somewhat unconventional Christmas, but that itself is kind of par for the course for them; though living in an apartment block he designed in the suburbs, father Magnus (Sven Nordlin) is still a hippy at heart, with mother Lone (Sonja Richter) a bit of a stabilizing influence on him and their two sons. When she's torn away in a freak accident, Magnus despairs, and while younger brother Peter goes to live with his aunt and uncle for a while, older brother Nikolaj (Åsmund Høeg) stays. He's recently discovered punk, and while this is the perfect time for a boy his age to rebel, that's hard to do with a father as open-minded and supportive as Magnus.

It can be frustratingly difficult, in fact, and that's demonstrated early, during the otherwise serene Christmas scenes. The basic need for Nikolaj to establish his own identity, or maybe Magnus to finish growing up himself - or a little of both - is at the core of the story, and when the movie is at its best, that idea is presented beautifully, with awkward reactions and discomfort at points where relief might naturally be expected.

There are times, though, when writer Nikolaj Frobenius (adapting his own autobiographical novel) and director Jens Lien seem to have trouble truly committing to this arc. It's something that goes on throughout the film, but which seldom shows enough motion to say that this is what the story is about and something the characters are moving toward realizing. The script makes some other rather curious decisions as well - in particular, why even have Peter as a character? Not only is his absence throughout the film weird, but the way he's pushed off-screen doesn't ring true at all. Maybe it's a "he was in the book/real life" thing, but it makes for an awkward, confused story.

Nevertheless, lots of individual bits are great. The sequence in which Magnus and the boys learn of Lone's fatal accident is just great editing, quick cuts that bring the family to a different place without sacrificing tension (Lien and editor Vidar Flataukan do great work in general). There are several very funny scenes built around Magnus's eccentricity, with the summer vacation being the most obviously memorable.

Sven Nordin, well, really shows us something in those scenes, but he's impressive throughout. He's often hilarious as the pipe-smoking, innocent hippy man-child, but always buttressing it with just the right amount of desperation to connect with Nikolaj, even if it's seldom on the surface. Åsmund Høeg is equally good, showing the frustration of a kid who needs to rebel or let out anger but doesn't have a true outlet for it.

"Sons of Norway" has some problems, although some of that is a matter of just not fitting the template of how films with this story are supposed to run. Where it does hit the target, it hits dead center, and it's worth a recommendation.

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originally posted: 07/28/12 22:41:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Cinequest Film Festival 22 For more in the Cinequest Film Festival 22 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Jens Lien

Written by
  Nikolaj Frobenius

  Sven Nordin
  Åsmund Høeg
  Sonja Richter
  John Lydon

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