'Out of Nature' ('Mot Naturen'): Toronto Review

Out of Nature
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
An excellent look at middle-aged ambivalence

An office worker's nature hike is a trip within himself

An effortlessly penetrating self-portrait of the artist as a doubt-plagued middle-aged man, Ole Giaever's Out of Nature plunges into the stream of consciousness of a narrator whose oppressive internal monologue will be recognizable to many viewers who don't even share his specific concerns. Exploring these incessant thoughts against the backdrop of a solo weekend hike through Norwegian hills, the film capture the reality of many a day-trip that's meant to clear the head but instead packs it more densely. Funny enough to entertain but serious at heart, the picture has plenty of arthouse potential beyond the fest circuit.

In the lead of this nearly one-man-show, Giaever plays Martin, whose unspecified office job affords him plenty of time to stare out the window and imagine the monotonous personal lives of strangers. How old is that plump, graying man, he wonders. 66? I have thirty years until then. Enough time to start over, even.

The kind of man who never knows whether to follow up a manly clasped-hands greeting with a slap on the upper arm, Martin shakily agrees to meet coworkers for drinks on a Friday afternoon despite knowing he's headed off for a hike. Later he will fret over his phone, wondering how exactly his "I'm not coming" text should be worded in order to generate the least curiosity about his changed plan.

He hadn't done a very good job of telling his wife about the trip, either, but she seems unbothered to learn she'll be caring for their young son Karsten alone for the next day or two. Her amenable response makes it clear that this isn't a film about a harried family man responding to mounting pressures. Instead, the fantasies we'll hear him mull in voiceover as he tromps through the countryside — of divorce; of his wife's death; of an accident that would paralyze him — are simply the work of a brain that still believes life might become more interesting than it currently is. Unimpeded by others' voices, Martin follows tangents these fantasized events suggest: Absolved of the responsibility to care for himself if he were paralyzed, he'd become grotesquely obese; then he could travel the world in a freak show, supporting his family with his earnings. And then he stops for a wank behind a tree. (Here and elsewhere, Giaever is not shy about the bottom half of his body.)

Very subtly over the course of the trek, both the film and the monologue calm down, focusing on issues with a good deal more spiritual import than "which word is better, 'bum' or 'arse'?" Though the focus is on the man, Giaever and DP Oystein Mamen are attentive to our interest in the terrain he has ostensibly come to commune with.

A brief mid-story detour following another hiker proves the film knows what is easy for an absorbed thinker to forget: These silent dialogues are playing out all around us, and however personal it feels, no sentiment rattling around your brain belongs to you alone.

Eventually the film puts some of Martin's escape fantasies to the test, interrupting his solitude in a rustic cabin. Like some of his guilty fantasies, the encounter is fraught with quiet excitement, photographed and edited with exquisite intimacy. But Martin will probably be the same man tomorrow that he is today.

Production company: Mer Film AS

Cast: Ole Giaever, Marte Magnusdotter Solem, Sivert Giaever Solem, Rebekka Nystadbakk, Ellen Birgitte Winther

Director-Screenwriter: Ole Giaever

Producer: Maria Ekerhovd

Executive producers: Alex Helgeland

Director of photography: Oystein Mamen

Production designer: Julie Lozach Asskildt

Editor: Frida Eggum Michaelsen

Music: Ola Flottum

No rating, 80 minutes