Monday 30 July 2018

Scandinavian Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews THELMA (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2017)

In the Scandinavian Film Festival, Thelma turns out to be a Carrie ripoff which features distant snow country pastor-doctor Henrik Rafaelsen and his wheel chair bound wife sending their teenage daughter Eili Harboe to Oslo University. There a number of disturbing occurrences call for phone calls home when prayer doesn’t seem to be cutting it.  

Harboe starts getting involved with fellow student Kaya Wilkins making a fetching first impression in her one piece at the indoor pool. Mean students make fun of the sheltered Harboe. Well, they should never have invited Thelma to the party. 

Strange events accumulate. Crows smash against the library windows. An erotically inclined serpent enters the girls’ bodies. Harboe finds herself trapped at the bottom of the pool (that one is scary - pity the air bubbles undermine it ) Wilkins vanishes in a shower of glass shards leaving only strands of hair on the window.  These scenes (unsatisfactorily) may be Harboe’s fantasies or manifestations of her telekinetic power. They at least generate images for the trailer. 

Playing the fantasy against the realistically shown campus setting does bring some impact. 

We get into the back story with the alarming footage of the baby trapped under the ice, the single bare foot on the iron bridge and the girl’s witchcraft granny on excessive downers prescribed by dad. The parents bring Harboe home and the piece becomes progressively more shaky with her as the life force (and gay rights advocate) put up in opposition to the restrictive patriarchal figure. No suspense here. We know he’s going to get his.

Joachim Trier
Director Joachim Trier is established in Scandinavia and his film craft is assured. He probably sees himself as heir to the tradition of Carl Dreyer but, once you get to the contradictory ending, the film’s wavering vision sinks it, even if the comparisons it invites with the Brian de Palma film haven't already demolished it.

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