‘Homesick’ (‘De Naermeste’): Sundance Review

Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
Ine Wilmann and Simon J. Berger in 'Homesick'
Sensual if somewhat torpid, this suffers from an overly oblique script but features a breakout central performance

Striking newcomer Ine Wilmann stars as a troubled young woman who embarks on an affair with her half-brother in Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky’s third feature

Having explored extramarital hijinks and pre-pubescent desire with comedy Happy Happy and darker fare Totally True Love respectively, Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky resumes her investigation into sexual mores with sensual if somewhat torpid drama Homesick. Featuring luminous discovery Ine Wilmann as a troubled young woman who embarks on an affair with her half-brother (Simon J. Berger), the film goes so far out of its way to avoid seeming lurid or melodramatic it ends up being almost emotionally incomprehensible in its obliqueness. Festivals will welcome this into the fold, but distribution will be trickier beyond Scandinavia, France and other sophisticate territories.

The daughter of free-spirited bohemian Anna (Anneke von der Lippe) and an alcoholic father who’s dying of cirrhosis, twentysomething Oslo-resident Charlotte (recent drama-school grad Wilmann making her film debut) is a vivacious, child-like creature, whose natural rapport with kids makes her a big hit with the young ones as a teacher at a local dance school. But beneath that china-doll mask of prettiness, she’s a steaming mess of insecurity and neurosis who feels underloved by her mom. To compensate, she’s latched herself onto the more normal family of her recently married best friend Marta (Silje Storstein), and is even dating Marta’s brother (Oddgeir Thune).

Sewitsky and Ragnhild Tronvoll’s elliptical script never quite spells out how Charlotte learns that her half-brother Henrik (Berger) is now living in Oslo as well with his wife and young son, having moved there from Sweden where he grew up. Charlotte has always been told by Anna that Henrik’s father forbid her from seeing her son after the dissolution of their relationship. But after Henrik confronts Charlotte about supposedly stalking him and throws some home truths in her face, she realizes Anna’s version is not quite the way it went.

The scenes of them ambling about the city on as they get to know each other are both poignant and charged, while an odd digression that has them crashing an office party under assumed identities adds a touch of comedy. But nothing more than smoldering glances lays the groundwork for their sudden mutual decision to have the kind of fast, furious and ridiculously effortless standing shag that only ever happens in movies.

There’s a lot more where that came from throughout the film’s mid-section as the two go at it in secret, apparently not particularly troubled by the fact that they’re cheating on their partners, let alone violating a fairly universal taboo against incest. Charlotte’s session with a therapist is observed in the very first scene, but thereafter she’s not given to more than halting expressions of what’s going on in her head, which grows increasingly frustrating.

Luckily for the film, Wilmann is a strong and charismatic enough performer to fill in the gaps non-verbally, and she pretty much carries the film. Berger’s Henrik is more of an enigma, less well-developed as a character than Anna or Marta. It’s almost as if the men don’t really matter at all, which in a way makes a refreshing change but still impairs the drama.

Daniel Voldheim’s handheld lensing and use of mostly natural light add an old-school, Dogma 95 vibe to the proceedings, which could be said of vast swathes of Nordic films. Musical choices, including songs in Spanish sung by Nat King Cole and scratchy but understated score by Ginge, form part of a thoroughly professional but far remarkable technical package.

Production companies: A Maipo Film presentation
Cast: Ine Wilmann, Simon J. Berger, Anneke von der Lippe, Silje Storstein, Oddgeir Thune
Director: Anne Sewitsky
Screenwriters: Ragnhild Tronvoll, Anne Sewitsky
Producers: Synnove Horsdal, Ashild Ramborg
Director of photography: Daniel Voldheim
Production designer: Lina Nordqvist
Costume designer: Bente Ulvik
Editor: Christoffer Heie
Composer: Ginge
Casting: Yngvill Kolset Haga
Sales: TrustNordisk

No rating, 102 minutes