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It's Only Make Believe (Eventyrland): Montreal Review

The Bottom Line

Story of a mother's tenacity is both charming and scary.

Venue

Montreal World Film Festival, Focus on World Cinema

Cast

Silje Salomonsen, Vegar Hoel, Fredrik Sundsteigen Hana, Iben Østin Hjelle

Director-Screenwriter-Director of Photography-Editor

Arild Ostin Ommundsen

A mother faces challenges, legal and otherwise, while trying to reunite with her daughter.

MONTREAL — Alternatingly delicate and brutal, Arild Ostin Ommundsen's It's Only Make Believe introduces viewers to a woman whose intention to be a loving and devoted mother keeps getting derailed by circumstance and iffy decision-making. Buoyed by charming performances and enough violence to balance its wistful tendencies, the stylish Norwegian film would be welcome in American arthouses and is all the more impressive given that Ommundsen filled nearly all the major behind-the-camera creative roles.

Silje Salomonsen plays Jenny, a curly-headed, large-eyed young woman first seen telling boyfriend Frank that she thinks she's pregnant. The news goes over well, and Frank responds with a sweet proposal, before the couple gets back to the mischief they'd planned for the evening -- a minor break-in that goes badly awry, with Jenny trying to save Frank's life and shooting him instead.

After serving her time for the accidental shooting (she's the kind of inmate a prison guard hugs goodbye), Jenny goes to the foster home that has raised her daughter Merete for the last nine years. The girl (Iben Østin Hjelle) could not be more beautiful, well-adjusted, or loving of her long-distance mom, but getting custody of her won't be easy.

Jenny resolves to turn her old, neglected house into a home a social worker would approve of, a task that will require large bank loans -- or some called-in favors from the shady friend whose bad tip got her and Frank in trouble.

Ommundsen constructs sequences with an enjoyably choppy editing style, moving the story forward while pausing now and then for hazy, happy montages accompanied by gentle-voiced indie songwriters. Salomonsen is indefatigable as Jenny's steps toward domesticity -- most involve help from an old classmate, now a loan officer, who is intent on becoming part of her life -- are repeatedly undercut by bad-news characters: A seedy stranger who calls himself Eddie Vedder (Egil Birkeland) warns her early on, "I know a guy who wants to break your face," and the threat -- from a man whose life was ruined in that opening episode -- soon proves even more serious than it sounds.

Ommundsen is as unsparing with sudden violence as he is with the deployment of a little girl's smile, and it's hard not to get worked up while guessing which elemental force will carry the day. In a performance that combines optimism with a frank way of confronting life's unfair obstacles -- and this life has more than its share -- Salomonsen seems capable of enduring until things go her way.

Production Company: Chezville AS

Cast: Silje Salomonsen, Vegar Hoel, Fredrik Sundsteigen Hana, Iben Østin Hjelle

Director-Screenwriter-Director of Photography-Editor: Arild Ostin Ommundsen

Producers: Gary Cranner

Executive producer: Terez Hollo

Music: Thomas Dybdahl

No rating, 92 minutes