The 59th London Film Festival: The Wave

Recent years have been relatively successful for Scandinavian Cinema and its filmmakers, who constantly show that they are able to deliver good quality films. For instance: ZoZo (Sweden, 2005) by Josef Fares, Let the Right One In (Sweden, 2008) directed by Tomas Alfredson, Dancer in the Dark by Lars Von Tier (Denmark, 2001), The Hunt (Denmark, 2014) by Thomas Vinterberg and, well known to foreign audiences, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  (Sweden, 2009) which made more than $100 million worldwide. In regards to Norwegian productions, their export importance is slowly increasing as interest from overseas widens. The latest production, one which caught my attention, is Roar Uthang’s The Wave which earned $8.2 million domestically and became the highest grossing film in Norway in 2015.

Generally, Scandinavian films are frosty detective stories, dark psychological or dismal dramas. One would also think that The Wave may look like a Hollywood disaster movie, and in some aspects it does, however, the film is an interesting assortment of everything. The scriptwriters, John Kare Raake and Harald Rosenlow-Eeg, as well as the director, Roar Uthang, have definitely outdone the majority of nonsensical Hollywood films which depict an impeding or ongoing disaster as a central plot feature.

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The Wave opens with a short archive footage of an event that occurred in 1905 and 1934 when a rock slide triggered a tsunami killing approximately 100 people. While contemplating on what happened during that time, the audience is introduced to a strong-minded protagonist, Kristian Eikfjord (Kristoffer Joner: The Revenant), an experienced geologist, husband and father of two Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande). Kristian lives in Geiranger, a small tourist village, where he works in a facility involved in the monitoring of an erosion process of one of the cliffs. He is also in the middle of packing his belongings as he is about to start a new job away from Geiranger. Unfortunately, just before his departure, he learns that one of the mountain passages may put the village’s safety in danger. While trying to warn everyone about it, the threat escalates drastically, leaving the residents  with only 10 minutes to evacuate. Is it possible to save one’s life within such a short period of time?

Roar Uthang really sticks to quality guidelines in regards to the narrative: well developed characters, good pace and well balanced tension; it definitely makes The Wave to be an interesting and entertaining production.

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What separates this film from other catastrophic Hollywood movies is that The Wave is not only about ‘what nature has to offer’ when is comes to disasters, but it’s also about complex human relationships, particularly the correlation between a family. It avoided, often seen in overseas films, a typical cliché looking protagonist too: a divorced male, parted from his family and possibly an alcoholic. Here we have a guy who works hard to support his family, whose son isn’t happy about moving to another city, and whose wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) constantly nags him about his role as a father – instead of looking after the kids he concentrates on his job which, after all, he gave up on. Kristoffer Joner’s portrayal of Kristian is impeccable and credible; what strikes me the most is that he performed his own stunts which, as the director said, was utterly nerve-racking.

Uthang focuses mainly on events leading up to the disaster, and at the same time tries to answer the question of why the tragedy cannot be avoided. In this world where global warming is rising dramatically, it is hard not to think of this sort of cataclysm. Unfortunately, The Wave will not please action/adventure film enthusiasts as it is not 2012 style disaster movie, but nevertheless the climax in The Wave is thrilling and will definitely put you on the edge of your seat. When you look at the technical side of the film, without a doubt, it has been neatly done. John Christian Rosenlund’s cinematography will take your breath away, particularly when you see the beautiful and pristine Norwegian landscapes.

In 2015, Norway submitted The Wave for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category, however it wasn’t nominated, probably due to the lack of an artistic value. Regardless, I’m glad that the film was shown at various film festivals around the world. It does not matter that it wasn’t nominated to receive an Oscar, what matters is that the audience appreciated it enough to make it the best selling film in Norway in 2015.

Written by Maggie Gogler

All photos © 2015 Fantefilm

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