Norway (2014) Dir. Eskil Vogt
I was once told “you don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.” Celebrated screenwriter Eskil Vogt’s debut as a director presumably heard this too as it is one of the central themes of this sublime twisting drama.
Former teacher Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) has recently become blind from a genetic degenerative condition and as a result has retreated into the safety of her apartment. Alone with her thoughts Ingrid becomes convinced that her husband Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen) often returns home during the day saying nothing, just observing.
Meanwhile a divorced mother Elin (Vera Vitali), recently moved to Oslo from Sweden has been let down when it comes to having her son for the weekend, but she is not short of attention as she is being watched by the porn obsessed loner who lives across the street Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt). But while Einar watches on in silence Elin enjoys an online friendship with Morten in which they exchange raunchy comments.
I’m being deliberately deceptive with the summary just as Vogt is with his story because the events described in the paragraph above didn’t happen in reality. It is not until a good thirty minutes or so into the film that we learn Ingrid is in fact a budding writer and this is the product of her overactive and paranoid imagination.
Vogt’s blurring of the lines of reality depicts a chilling descent into madness which can’t be helped due to the condition that caused it, for once putting the victim in the clear so to speak since she cannot herself discern the credibility of the evidence concocted in her mind.
Raising awareness of the plight of the blind through a series of surreal skits within a linear narrative, Blind gives us the opportunity to imagine what is going on inside the mind of someone robbed of their vision, yet still has such a vivid sense of the world around her, largely through memory. It’s admittedly a fanciful way to explore this subject and dramatic licence is the order of the day but it gets the message across.
Initially we look at Ingrid as she is forced to acclimatise to a life without sight, the simple act of making a cup of tea becoming a tense filled act of extreme manual dexterity and hope, teasing the viewer that disaster is one misjudged moment away. Ingrid, with some irony, sits by the window relying on the radio and speaking equipment, like her microwave oven or a clever device which can read colours, for company. Her laptop comes with an earpiece to hear a voice that reads out the letters tapped on her Braille keyboard, a similar development found on mobile phones.
Elin’s story runs concurrently with Ingrid’s, taking a while to reveal itself as fiction but slowly they overlap; while Morten reads a business website on his laptop in bed, Ingrid lying next to him envisions an explicit chat between Morten and Elin. As time moves on Ingrid’s paranoia spills over into Elin’s life and Ingrid begins to punish Elin for reasons that become evident later on.
Part vicarious living, part obsessive anger at her condition, Ingrid turns Elin blind too but gives her a harder time with it, having her be subject to embarrassing make-up and wardrobe decisions to humiliate her in public, and worst of all, Morten rejecting her once her sight goes. Unfortunately Ingrid starts to feel that Elin’s struggles are now hers, putting pressure on her trust in Morten.
It’s important to note that there are no signs that Vogt is deliberately taking shots at the blind or trying to exploit any comic value this impairment may have, although there are some darkly amusing moments to be found to raise the odd guilty titter. The overall mood and tone is very droll and silence is a key factor in creating atmosphere in between the prolix dialogue of Elin’s story.
What is less clear is Einar’s role in the story. He gets a brief moment in the spotlight when he becomes an unlikely focal point after a major public tragedy but his fifteen minutes are soon up and he is back to being an anonymous loner again. Unless I’m missing something (as usual) I assume Einar is supposed to be juxtaposition to Ingrid/Elin’s plight, showing us that sighted, able-bodied people can be just as ignored and lonely, but I’m probably wrong.
Vogt’s previous screenplay with Joachim Trier for the film Reprise looks at the struggles of writers and the creative process, while Oslo, August 31st is a bleak social drama. Blind sees Vogt combining the two elements to great effect, having some fun with the former concept. For instance Elin’s son turns into a daughter for no reason while a conversation between Morten and Einar switches location from a café to a train with each shot.
One gets the feeling Vogt felt this was one story nobody else could interpret or envisage as he wrote it, but as a first time director he acquits himself very well. He appears to have picked up some von Trier habits for using obtuse and shock baiting storytelling methods (there are clips of hardcore pornography) by osmosis it seems. His style will be pleasing to arthouse fans with lush cinematography and inventive editing.
Playing a blind person is not as easy as it seems but Ellen Dorrit Petersen makes it look at cinch, her pasty white make-up free face making Ingrid seem almost ethereal as she wanders tentatively through her dual realties. Similarly Vera Vitali has one more stumbling block for Elin to overcome in her confused life, making the most of her tiny stature to make the character seem like a lost child in a huge world.
Blind is an ambitious film that borders on the indulgent with its esoteric storytelling yet beguiles and engages with its reality bending ingenuity and sensitive exploration in to the world of the sightless.