As part of the centenary of the peaceful dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian Union in 1905, the Barbican Centre in London hosted a mini-festival of Norwegian films. Norway produces between 15 and 17 feature films a year and one of its most famous exports of late was Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 Insomnia, which was remade by Christopher Nolan in 2002. The festival was a discreet affair comprising six titles, one of which was the 1917 silent Terje Vigen (A Man There Was) by Victor Sjorstrom, an adaptation of Ibsen’s poem.
The main highlight of the event was, undoubtedly, the superb Kissed by Winter (Vinterkyss, pictured), by Sarah Johnsen. Starring Annika Hallin in the leading role. Kissed by Winter is a masterful depiction of grief and denial, told with ingenious overlapping of narratives and classy, minimalist cinematography.
Hallin plays Victoria, who recently took up a job as a county doctor in a snow-bound village, immersed in winter darkness and gloom. We catch glimpses of a previous life: we see her taking her son to school, we see the boy in hospital and other domestic scenes of what seems a typical middle-class life.
Back in the village and the present time, she seems acquainted enough with the locals – a policeman, his depressed wife, the driver of the plow truck. The turn of events comes in the shape of the dead body of the son of a couple of refugees. This incident triggers off the emotional release Victoria needs to reconstruct, and reconcile with, her life.
Kissed by Winter is François Ozon’s Under the Sand under the snow, minus escapist fantasy scenes. Hallin carries the story with a measured acting style that fits in perfectly with the tone of the film and the mise-en-scene, her small slitted eyes keeping the mystery in without turning the film into any kind of guessing game, although Johnsen maintains a subtle suspense throughout. Kissed by Winter is full of nuance and poetry and Johsen’s skill in elaborating a multi-layered narrative is impressive.
The film hasn’t got a UK release yet, but it more than deserves to be released in as many countries as possible. It is this year’s Norwegian entry into the Academy Awards, which may boost its changes of wider exposure. One to watch out for.