Broken Hill Blues (Omheten): Berlin Review

This austere teen-centric drama marks out its first-time director Sofia Norlin as a promising voice, but she needs to work on story skills  

Winner of a top Swedish film award for best cinematography, this debut for director Sofia Norlin stars Lina Leandersson from ‘Let the Right One In’ as one of several depressed teens growing up in a mining town

Programmed in both the Goteborg Film Festival and the Berlinale’s Generation 14+ line-ups after winning Sweden’s Guldbagge award for best cinematography, austere teen-centric drama Broken Hill Blues marks out its first-time director Sofia Norlin as a promising voice. That said, Norlin should in future perhaps concentrate on sharpening her screenwriting skills since this look at young people coping with small-town life above the Arctic Circle barely has any plot to speak off. Ultimately, the film is a procession of exquisitely shot lyrical moments that feel like all the bits in between bigger, narrative-propelling scenes that were perversely edited out. Broken Hill Blues is unlikely to crack through the ice into distribution outside Nordic countries, although more festival exposure will surely follow.

If nothing else, Broken Hill Blues will be welcome viewing for all those out there beyond Sweden who’ve been waiting to see what’s happened to Lina Leandersson, who played Eli, the fragile pubescent vampire in Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 cult hit Let the Right One In. Now 18 and even more striking looking with her strong features and slight frame, Leandersson here plays Zorin, the daughter of immigrants from an unnamed Balkan country, who loves to swim and take photographs. Such is the nature of Norlin’s screenplay that we don’t get to know much more than that about her, but Leandersson is consistently interesting to watch throughout.

Zorin is one of the happier kids encountered in the film, who are for the most part a pretty depressed lot, stuck as they are in Kiruna, a small settlement in Northern Sweden whose entire economy revolves around the local iron-ore mine. Almost a character in itself within the film, the dragon-like mine growls and makes the ground shake beneath everyone’s feet. The entire town may have to be moved lock, stock and barrel soon because the friable earth beneath it has become so unstable.

From time to time, the mine swallows sacrifices, like some of the characters’ fathers, and its hungry maw seemingly yearns to consume Markus (Sebastian Hiort af Ornas), an angry young man whose only two loves in life are the aged Chevvy he’s resurrected from near-scrap and his passive girlfriend Helena (Jenny Sandberg), pretty much in that order. Meanwhile, troubled teen Daniel (Alfred Juntti) scowls and pulls up the hood of his sweatshirt a lot, presumably to signify that he’s upset by his alcoholic father (Par Andersson) and his inability to commit to the violence demanded by the gang he’s joined.

Norlin skirts away from the cliché that seems to be coming in the final reel when Daniel trudges up the mountainside with a rifle alone, a move for which many viewers, exhausted by the film’s pinched air of misery, will feel grateful. Elsewhere, Petrus Sjovik’s digital cinematography, carefully juxtaposing intimate close-up details and spectacular landscape vistas in both winter and summer seasons, offers a kind of visual Prozac that helps viewers endure the emotional torpor. Both Erik Guldager’s source sound design and the musical undertow provided by Conny Nimmersjo and Anna-Karin Unger enrich the dreamy atmosphere.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Generation 14+; also in Goteborg Film Festival)

Production: DFM in co-production with Filmpool Nord, TeliaSonera, Dagsljus, Europa Sound&Vision, Film I Västernorrland

Cast: Sebastian Hiort af Ornas, Lina Leandersson, Alfred Juntti, Par Andersson, Alexandra Dahlstrom, Jenny Sandberg

Director, screenwriter: Sofia Norlin

Producers: Olivier Guerpillon

Director of photography: Petrus Sjovik

Production designer: Liv Ulfsdottir, Emma Skoog

Costume designer: Hanna Sjodin

Editors: Nicolas Bancilhon, Philip Bergstrom

Music: Conny Nimmersjo, Anna-Karin Unger

Sales: The Yellow Affair

No rating, 80 minutes

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