PINING FOR THE FJORDS
Main Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp
Director: Roar Uthag
After several days of being trapped on the yacht due to some overzealous border patrol agents, I was finally able to
convince them that I was indeed Vicki Lester, and not some sort of tawdry impersonator. When negotiations with my attorneys from Fajer and Hellmann broke down, despite the yeoman efforts of Ms. Abbott, the firm’s representative who had been dispatched to our aid, I finally remembered the one thing that could confirm my identity beyond any doubt. I got myself all gussied up in the backless bias cut Mungojerrie from my GlamourPuss gowns collection (fortunately one was hanging in the closet of the Guyot Guest State Room) and made a grand entrance into the salon where the various ICE officials had congregated, gorging themselves on the canapes that were stored in the fridge in case Normy or I needed a snack. Now this particular gown was in a daffodil yellow chenille, not my color or fabric, but it does allow the public to see my lower scapulae. And there, on the left, for all to see, was my famous birthmark in the shape of the fifteenth Faberge Imperial Easter Egg.
I launched into a rousing chorus of Let Me Entertain You to best highlight that strawberry mark which could not be faked and, when they seemed unimpressed, I called their attention to the famous photograph of it that is reproduced in Mayo’s Dermatologic Eruptions and Anomalies 4th edition available from Eckerle and Bounacos publishing. They had to admit that I was who I said I was and not, in fact, a man in a dress. The gentleman in charge decided that I posed no immediate danger to the homeland and I and Normy were ultimately allowed to disembark. The delay on the boat was longer than I anticipated and, when I looked at my appointment calendar, I realized that I was quite late for an engagement that I have had to keep secret until now. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had engaged me and Normy to make a special appearance on the Oscar telecast this year and the extra day in the harbor rendered us incredibly late for the ceremony. There was nothing for it but to hail an Uber and head off to the Dolby Theater post haste. At least I, in my yellow gown, was properly attired, but Normy was still in Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt reading ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’. I figured we could borrow a tuxedo from one of the ushers when we got there.
As there was traffic on the 405, it was going to be a while before we hit the red carpet, so I pulled out the trusty iPad, dialed up Netflix and poked through it for a film to pass the time. As we had had a rather dismal day on the water, I decided to find an aquatic disaster film to view. My searches led me to a Norwegian film The Wave from 2015. Although relatively unknown in this country, it managed to sell more than 800,000 admissions in a country of 5 million people, making it a blockbuster in its native land. Having not seen a Norwegian film for a while, we settled into the back seat of the Escalade and strained our eyes to read the subtitles while the actors spoke in tones reminiscent of the Swedish chef.
The Wave is a ‘what if’ disaster film. It starts with old photographs of incidents in 1905 and the 1930s when massive rockslides into fjords caused localized tsunamis, devastating towns and killing dozens. Norwegians are very aware that the spectacular march of mountains to the sea which creates the fjords leads to geologic instabilities and, if millions of tons of rock decide to suddenly descend into the water, a massive displacement will occur within a confined space creating a several hundred-foot-high wall of water which will come crashing down on everything in its path. It will happen again and Norwegian officials carefully monitor unstable areas in the hopes of giving local residents enough warning to get to high ground when the next such incident occurs.
This film, which encompasses elements of traditional American disaster genre film making with a more European cinema verite style, stars Kristoffer Joner as Kristian, a geologist on the cusp of middle age, who is in the process of leaving his job in the picturesque tourist town of Geiranger that’s at the head of one of the startlingly beautiful Norwegian fjords. He and his coworkers are charged with monitoring problems on Akerneset mountain which backs up on the fjord. They know if the crack up there ever shifts enough to break the rock loose, they have ten minutes to alert the town and get everyone out before they’re all inundated. Kristian has a perky wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and two children, a moody teenaged son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Ofteboro) and a winsome young daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande). He’s decided to leave their idyllic little town for the big city (!) of Stavanger and a new job with the North Atlantic oil and gas industry. Idun, who is a receptionist at the local tourist hotel, backs him but the kids aren’t so sure. Of course, as he prepares to leave town, the mountain top sensors start to have funny readings and we can all see where this is going from about ten miles away. Will the family be in mortal peril from a tsunami? Will various barely introduced supporting characters meet a watery end or be killed by falling debris? It’s a genre film, you can fill in the blanks. Let’s just say there are no particular surprises.
What makes the relatively low budget The Wave work, unlike the low budget American versions which usually turn up late night on SyFy, is a combination of decent performances by unknown (at least in this country) Norwegian actors and a director (Roar Uthag) who is smart enough to use his low budget to his advantage. Recent American releases such as San Andreas and 2012 have positively reveled in an orgy of little CGI people being offed by the thousands in spectacular scene after spectacular scene. This film doesn’t try to do this. It keeps its characters in realistic landscapes, putting them in dangers from the mundane objects of ordinary life – a car trunk, a set of headphones turned up too high – and letting us experience the terror on a very human scale. There aren’t a lot of effects shots. The film doesn’t need them. We know what’s coming and our imaginations conjure things up far better than even the best of special effects wizards. The glimpses we do get of the onrushing tsunami are few, but still scare us because we know what it can and will do.
Much of the action in the latter half of The Wave takes place in the half-destroyed hotel. There are some underwater scenes as good as anything from The Poseidon Adventure but a great deal more claustrophobic. The cast did their own stunt work and apparently trained to be able to hold their breath for up to three minutes underwater. This confinement ultimately works to help ratchet up the suspense and much of the last half of the film is full of tension inducing moments as we wait to find out just how the tsunami is going to impact our little family.
I do have a few quibbles. There’s a CPR scene borrowed from The Abyss. It didn’t work in that film and doesn’t work here and should have been rethought. The tsunami also strikes in the predawn hours which at times makes it hard to see what’s going on. This is likely due to budgetary constraints. When it’s dark, you don’t have to show too much and can keep the costs down. The faking of wreckage, however, is very good, especially a scene where our hero finds a wrecked tour bus which may or may not contain the bodies of some family members.
Most of the recent Scandinavian films I have seen have been filled with actors that appear to be very real people. They aren’t unattractive but their faces and bodies are flawed. They have wrinkles or droopy eyes or a little too much paunch. They would never be cast in a Hollywood film where their faces and bodies tend to be flawless and plastic looking. This helps us identify with these people; they could be our neighbors or coworkers and, as such, we can see ourselves being trapped in a similar situation. If you have Netflix and don’t mind subtitles, you might give The Wave a look.
Panic button. Computer sensors. Collapsing binders. Gratuitous ferry rides. Box of stuffed animals. Disposable tourist couple. Delayed bus boarding. Hill running. Crack spelunking. Gratuitous helicopter flights.