Greetings again from the darkness. Contrasts are plentiful in this film. The bleakness of winter versus the greenery of summer. The resignation of old age versus the naivety of youth. Pet Petterson’s award-winning novel was released in Norway in 2003, and then in English version in 2005. Norwegian director Petter Moland tackles it with the best intentions, though the nuances prove too much for one movie. Mr. Moland is a fine director as evidenced by his excellent IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE (2014) with Stellan Skarsgard and the English remake COLD PURSUIT (2019) with Liam Neeson.
Morland and Skarsgard reunite as the actor takes on the role of the elder Trond, who we first see as he has relocated to Norway from Sweden. Through his narration, we learn Trond has lived in Sweden for 42 years, and it’s a chance meeting with his new neighbor Lars (Bjorn Floberg) that triggers memories of one summer when he was 15 years old. It’s now 1999, and the impending new millennium has Trond self-isolating on top of the grief and loneliness he has carried since his wife was killed in a car crash. Skarsgard is an actor who can be either sympathetic or powerful, and he brings gravitas to a character who is mostly lost at this late stage in life.
Much of the film is spent in Trond’s flashback to 1948, when he lived the summer with his father, a “practical” man, at his cabin in Norway. Young Trond is played very well by Jon Ranes in his first role. He clearly admires his father (Tobias Santelmann, KON-TIKI, 2012) and enjoys working beside him and taking rain showers alongside. Over the weeks, Trond and his father become entangled with a village family after a tragedy involving Lars (the future neighbor) when he was very young, and Lars’ father and mother (Danica Curcic). What follows for Trond are the things in life that cause us to alter our view of people and the world. Lost innocence is rarely easy.
Cinematographer Rasmus Videbaek (A ROYAL AFFAIR, 2012) captures the beauty of nature during the 1948 summer, as well as the stark white stillness of 1999 winter. Some of the look and feel and symbolism reminds of the work of Terrence Malick. The stunning Norwegian landscapes play a role for us as viewers and for Trond. There are also some quiet moments that carry weight between the elder Lars and Trond, as the missing pieces of life slowly fall into place.
The elder Trond states his goal is “to sleep as heavily as possible without being dead”, but we see part of him may have already died. Flashbacks to that summer, and even earlier during the war, combine with some awkward conversations with Lars to fill in gaps that had blurred over the years. Childhood memories from old age are often not to be trusted, but coming to grips with one’s family and the past may bring peace – or it may not. Trond is an avid reader of Dickens’ “David Copperfield” and there are many references throughout. He’s even given life advice: “Don’t be bitter”, which is a worthy goal for all. It’s an odd film with multiple timelines and damaged characters at different stages. It may not reach the level of Petterson’s novel, but director Moland gives us plenty to mull.
Magnolia Pictures will release OUT STEALING HORSES in theaters and on demand August 7th, 2020.