Director: Joachim Trier
Written by: Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier
Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Grethe Eltervag, Oskar Pask, Steiner Klouman Hallert
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/10/17
Opens: November 10, 2017 in NY. November 24, 2017 in L.A.
Norway’s candidate for best foreign language picture, competing for the Oscar at the Academy’s 90th annual presentations, is a study in contrast. On the one hand, it is icy, distant, intellectual rather than emotional; skimpy with melodrama and rigid with repressed sexuality. On the other hand, this is a horror movie but one that is Norwegian-style. This is no “Exorcist” copycat, certainly little in common with “Friday the 13th” or “Saw.” The Danish-born filmmaker and native Norwegian co-writer would both fit into Denmark and Norway given the way the clever citizens thereof appear to have a solid grasp of each other’s language, and the locale of this latest movie makes use of the sophisticated, academic neighborhoods of expensive Oslo.
Joachim Trier, well known in Scandinavian by cinephiles is celebrated therein for his 2011 movie “Oslo, August 31st,” a casual look at one day in the life one Anders, a recovering drug addict, who takes off to catch up on his friends in Norway’s capital. “Thelma” is surely intense by contrast, well-acted in the title role by Eili Harboe, while her younger self puts Eili Harboe in front of Jacob Ihre’s lenses. The young Thelma is cute enough but harbors ill feelings toward her baby brother, as her wheelchair-bound mother Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) ignores Thelma whether giving the baby a feeding or soaping him in the bath.
Thelma’s dad Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen), an internist, is a mixed bag, character-wise. He never yells. He shows patient understanding of his daughter, listens to her problems, and worries about her when she suddenly has a series of non-epileptic seizures. We in the audience know more than the father, though, as when Anja (Kaya Wilkins),another female student at the college, hits on the innocent Thelma, who has been brought up as a fundamentalist Christian (an anomaly in one of the countries with the smallest percentage of church-goers). As the emotionally immature Thelma is approached by fellow student Anja, Thelma has a seizure, writhing helplessly on the floor in much the same way as the title character jokingly faked in the film “My Friend Dahmer.” We are led to believe that the father, whose medical practice paid for Thelma’s college education so her daughter would not have to work for tuition, is not the ideal person for ways that the film audience will perceive only by the mid-point. We watch how Thelma, whose alcoholic drink is straight Coke but who tokes on an alleged roach to fit in, has telekinetic powers that make objects, and in at one case a human being, move. But if you go to this movie strictly as a “Carrie” fan,you may be disappointed by how subtly the surreal is shown.
With a terrifying, Hitchcockian conclusion and with elements akin to the works of Danish director Lars von Trier, “Thelma” is a winning mixture of psycho-babble and horror propelled by Eili Harboe’s performance. If you are interested in psychology more than in what passes in America for horror, this pic is made for you.
Unrated. 116 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+