'Blind Spot' ('Blindsone'): Film Review | TIFF 2018

Courtesy of TIFF
'Victoria' meets 'ER.'

Norwegian actress Tuva Novotny ('Annihilation,' 'Eat Pray Love') debuted her first feature as a director in Toronto’s Discovery section.

With the advent of digital technology over the last decade or so, single-take movies have become easier to make — if not necessarily easy to make well. Films like Russian Ark or the recent Chinese auteur piece Long Day’s Journey Into Night (the second half of which features a breathtaking hourlong take) are prime examples of how the technique can be artfully used, while genre movies such as the German thriller Victoria or the horror flick The Silent House feel more gimmicky than accomplished.

Enter Blind Spot (Blindsone), the latest attempt at a single-take film and also the first feature by Norwegian actress-turned-director Tuva Novotny (Annihilation, Eat Pray Love). Combining the one-shot aesthetic with a harrowing family drama told in real time, the movie is impressively made — one can only imagine the production gymnastics required to keep the camera rolling at all costs — and also intensely performed, with Pia Tjelta leading the cast as a mother whose life is suddenly upended by tragedy.

But beyond the instant fascination such a cinematic feat holds, Blind Spot gradually wears out its welcome by failing to add enough substance in front of the camera, even if what’s happening behind the camera remains of interest. The more you watch it, the more its power begins to fade, and the fact that Novotny never wraps up the story in a palpable way — even if, on an emotional level, the film does manage to come full circle — makes you question why it took so long to get there. Still, this is a bold enough debut to secure limited art house distribution outside of Scandinavia.

The opening shot (which runs all the way to the final shot) begins in a school gymnasium, where we soon focus on a teenager, Tea (Nora Mathea Oien), who finishes a handball match and takes a long, winding walk home with a friend. There is already tension building here, as we start to wonder what exactly will happen to Tea — a car accident? a school shooting? — because it’s clear that something will happen to her.

When the inevitable comes (at about the 15-minute mark), Novotny stages it in such a way that you’re not exactly shocked, but rather shaken by the sudden realization of what’s occurred. On the other hand, Tea’s mother, Maria (Tjelta), is completely blindsided by the incident and suddenly scrambling to save her daughter’s life. An ambulance arrives soon after, and Maria, who’s about to have a breakdown, follows it to a nearby hospital where the unconscious Tea is rushed into a trauma victims unit.

The majority of the film takes place in the hospital ward where Maria and her husband, Anders (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), — who’s even more devastated than she is and passes out at one point — stand by as their daughter is worked on by a team of specialists. They are assisted at every turn by Martin (Oddgeir Thune), a remarkably patient nurse whose job is to wait by their side, updating them, comforting them when possible, and trying to piece together what exactly happened.

A few key facts — including an extremely troubled family history — come out during the many discussions the three have while awaiting more news from the surgeon, yet while such revelations help to at least partially explain the incident, they don’t enhance the drama quite enough. And while there’s always an inherent, underlying suspense regarding Tea’s fate, it doesn’t always keep you on the edge of your seat.

Novotny ultimately seems less interested in plot than in capturing the many emotional phases that Maria experiences — shock, fear, desperation, fatigue — as she lives through what may be the last hour of her daughter’s life. In that sense, Blind Spot is more of a performance piece than a standard narrative, with Jonas Alarik’s constantly roving camera capturing every reaction that crosses the face of Tjelta and the rest of the cast.

Tech credits are, of course, noteworthy, particularly the way Novotny and her team use different spaces to reflect Maria’s shifting moods: from the explosive crisis she has at the foot of her apartment house, to the desperate interrogations on her ride to the ER, to all the anxious waiting around in the deserted hospital corridors, to the exhausting return trip she takes later on in a taxi, letting the events of the last 90 minutes finally sink in.

Production company: Nordisk Film Production AS
Cast: Pia Tjelta, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Oddgeir Thune, Nora Mathea Oien, Marianne Krogh, Per Frisch
Director-screenwriter: Tuva Novotny
Producer: Elisabeth Kvithyll
Director of photography: Jonas Alarik
Production designer-costume designer: Nina Bjerch Andresen
Composer: Jacob Kirkegaard
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Discovery)
Sales: TrustNordisk

In Norwegian
102 minutes