Karlovy Vary—The quirky side of Norwegian cinema is well represented by The Almost Man, one of the movies in competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival. The appealing star, Henrik Rafaelsen, played a lead character in another offbeat Norwegian comedy, Happy Happy, that was released last year. The new film, smoothly written and directed by Martin Lund, scrutinizes an aging adolescent who is 35 but still stuck in a state of arrested development. Although Henrik (Rafaelsen) has been living happily with Tone (Janne Heltberg Haarseth) for several years, her pregnancy and a stressful new job expose some problems in their relationship. Good reviews might help to launch the film in America, and the two attractive leads could also entice audiences. There’s even some gross-out humor to draw folks who rarely catch foreign films.
The film opens by showing the bond between Henrik and Tone at a supermarket, where they shock the other customers by pretending to have a heated argument about abortion and extramarital sex. We sense the playful, sardonic sense of humor that draws them together, but as Tone deals with a demanding job and the prospect of motherhood, she is beginning to move beyond her carefree youth, while Henrik is more reluctant to assume any adult responsibilities. When he attends a business conference for his new job, we can see the insecurity that lies beneath his playful persona. As a result of all these pressures, Henrik retreats to hijinks with a bunch of buddies who are even more stunted than he is. Some of these scenes, which feature graphic male frontal nudity, would be right at home in a raunchy Judd Apatow comedy, but they serve a pertinent purpose in demonstrating the dangers of Henrik’s refusal to grow up. (It’s no accident that one scene shows him urinating on a copy of Peter Pan.)
While the movie’s theme is familiar, even a little stale, the vivid details help to freshen the story, and the actors sock the movie home. Rafaelsen gives a marvelously subtle performance. His facial expressions are eloquent; he conveys Henrik’s irreverence, irresponsibility, and hidden sadness as he feels his life slipping away from him. Haarseth is equally adept at capturing both Tone’s love for Henrik and her mounting impatience with his stubborn refusal to change. A couple of key scenes with Henrik’s smothering mother give us some hints about the sources of his arrested development. One moment in which he wakes up in Mom’s house wearing a pair of furry childen’s slippers renders his immaturity in a slyly humorous manner.
While the film may be too slight to have lasting impact, it keeps us entertained. At the end, when Henrik confesses to Tone that his happy-go-lucky hedonism is no longer working for him, Rafaelsen makes the confession utterly convincing and even touching. The key to this movie’s success is that the actor forces you to care about a character whom you might flee if you encountered him at a booze-soaked party.
Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Cast: Henrik Rafaelsen, Janne Heltberg Haarseth, Tov Sletta, Per Kjaerstad, Tore Sagen, Kim Eidhagen, Anne Ma Usterud
Director-screenwriter: Martin Lund
Producer: Ruben Thorkildsen
Director of photography: Morten Halfstad Forsberg
Production designer: Ann Kristin Talleraas
Editor: Lars Apneseth
No rating, 80 minutes.