Writer-director Anders Walter’s Ivalu is a somber story about childhood trauma. Having made his mark with Helium, which won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2014, the 45-year-old Danish filmmaker is now competing for the award once again with his latest short film.

The Greenlandic-language film is adapted from an award-winning graphic novel of the same title by Morten Dürr and Lars Horneman. The film opens with an aerial shot of a raven flying over the sea and ice sheets, signaling its unmistakable locale. Here, young Pipaluk (Mila Heilmann Kreutzmann) and her elder sister Ivalu (Nivi Larsen) live with their father (Angunnguaq Larsen) in a quiet small town. When Pipaluk wakes one morning to find her sister missing, she embarks on a search, led by the mysterious raven. 

Ivalu – Image © 2023 Ivalu -OSCARS 2023
Ivalu– Image © 2023 Ivalu

Walter, along with his co-director Pipaluk Kreutzmann Jørgensen, deftly divides the story into two halves, largely keeping the lid on the truth of what happened to Ivalu until later. But the truth seeps through the cracks before then, which particularly suits the story’s heavy subject matter: trauma and repression. An unimaginable horror is briefly hinted at in the beginning of the film, and it’s terrifying and sad how easily one thinks of the worst (and even more so to see that one was right). From the father’s negligent responses and the grandma’s worried expression, every detail in the first half proves telling. 

Ivalu isn’t going for an understated treatment of a serious issue. Instead, the film faces it directly and offers a raw and painful look at it. Within the 16-minute running time, there are no twists or surprises in the story and it doesn’t pretend to have any. This would be especially true for audiences familiar with even just one or two other works by the same director. Since his earliest projects from more than a decade ago, Walter has had a penchant for stories featuring children or young adults as protagonists and has been consistent in exploring themes of death (including terminal illness and suicide), domestic abuse, and childhood trauma. Audiences in the English-speaking world may be more familiar with his 2017 feature debut, I Kill Giants, which also revolves around similar subject matters. Ivalu is no exception.

Ivalu– Image © 2023 Ivalu
Ivalu– Image © 2023 Ivalu

Cinematographer Rasmus Heise, who lensed nearly all of Walter’s movies, beautifully captures the rugged scenery of Greenland. This open landscape of sublime beauty contrasts sharply with the silent horrors taking place behind closed doors. To successfully move this kind of melancholy story from page to screen, the performance of the cast is crucial. Thankfully, the two young actresses do a stellar job in their first acting roles. It’s especially impressive how Nivi Larsen adds nuanced body language to the character of Ivalu while having only few spoken lines in flashback scenes. 

Anders Walter’s Ivalu is not a film that keeps you on the edge of your seat as Pipaluk looks for her sister. Instead, it’s a powerful film that makes you sink into your chair, feeling powerless and helpless. 

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Amarsanaa Battulga

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.

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