Sundance 2015 Review: HOMESICK Charts A Tender Symmetry Of Yearning
Norwegian filmmaker Anne Sewitsky made waves at Sundance in 2011 when her feature debut Happy Happy won the Grand Jury World Dramatic Prize. Sewitsky returned to the festival this year with her third feature, Homesick, a deconstructionist family drama which follows twentysomething Charlotte (Ine Wilmann) as she navigates a new relationship with her estranged half-brother, Henrik (Simon J. Berger).
The film exemplifies with elegance a certain Nordic melancholia that international audiences have come to expect, as cliche or attribute, from the filmmakers of Norway. Sewitsky charts a tender symmetry of yearning across the film's running time, cultivating a core crises of identity that results in a finely nuanced, consistently surprising turn from Wilmann. She plays Charlotte, a children's dance instructor living in Oslo, dealing with the approaching death of her ill father, her distant if loving mother Anna (Anneke von der Lippe) and the recent appearance of her half-brother.
Charlotte's own happiness hinges on the well-being of her friends, and the joy she gets from teaching. When her best friend Marte (Silje Storstein) gets married, Charlotte borrows the heirloom necklace Marte's groom has given her merely because Charlotte wants to hold some of that happiness, that joy a little closer. While Homesick is a clever title in its own right, the film's Norwegian title De nærmeste, translating into English as The Nearest, gives us the truest look into Charlotte's inner world, her desire for love, and her impending relationship with Henrik.
Mentioned in passing as someone she has never met, when Henrik shows up at her dance school, it is clear Charlotte has met him before as he accuses her of snooping around outside his family's house. In an attempt to mend the bad blood between them, Henrik's wife encourages the siblings to spend an evening out, which results in a strange attraction between the pair. Sewitsky is frank about what will happen between her two characters, and rather than constructing a judgmental angle, she filters their incestuous relationship as a traditional romance, one of magic and discovery and playfulness. It's this angle that elevates and deepens our concern and affection for Charlotte.
The intimate moments between Charlotte and Henrik are battered and insistent, with adult lovemaking quickly spiraling into the primal state of two children fighting. It is there we see that they are lost, made of feelings and fates that as adults they do not understand. It is there that their love and hate and guilt as children fractures, falls apart, and is rebuilt as something new.
What may on paper read as blatant melodrama with a black and white moral message becomes a complex and humane drama, defiant in its own anti-cathartic nature, shuffling most exposition off-screen. Sewitsky's charming fearlessness as a filmmaker disarms us. She invites us to walk into situations where we are largely blind. Sometimes her characters know a great deal more, or sometimes less, than we do.
It is this awkward stumble into joy and love and forgiveness, however uncomfortable it may all be, that makes Homesick and its heroine memorable.