Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tuba Atlantic

Movie Review: Tuba Atlantic

Director: Hallvar Witzo

Reviewed: 18 February 2012

jamesintexas rating--*** 1/2 (4 Stars = Highest Rating)

Weird. Strange. Unique. Tuba Atlantic concluded the set of the five films nominated for Best Short Films 2012 that I saw in one straight shot at Houston's Sundance Theater, and in many ways, I left with the most love for this film above all else. An unlikeable protagonist, a strained transatlantic sibling relationship, a frigid tuba perched on a windswept shore, machine guns, an actual angel of death, Tuba Atlantic is a hodepodge of quirky elements that come together wonderfully in a brisk 25 minutes. This film is my choice for the 2012 Best Short Film Academy Award.

The opening sustained long shot reveals Oskar (Edvard Haegstad), an older man living alone in Norway, to have cancer; his doctor gives him the countdown of six. "Six months?" Oskar asks. "Six days" his doctor replies. During his last days, the government sends out a young woman Inger (Ingrid Viken) from the Jesus Club to be his angel of death, and she dutifully checks off the Kubler-Ross stages of death as Oskar advances. As he considers his life, Oskar also desires to reconcile with his brother who moved across the water to New Jersey; their childhood was consumed by building the massive tuba that remains covered outside of Oskar's home. A shot of a picture on the wall reveals itself to be only half of the truth, as Oskar has hidden his brother's face from view. The angel of death engages in philosophical discussions with Oskar, and eventually, the tuba comes into play. Wonderfully.

There's great comedy here with Oskar's penchant for machine gunning and dynamiting the seagulls around his home. I really enjoyed the radio conversations that punctuate Oskar's day. The relationship with the angel of death is a humorous one that does not descend into schmaltz or maudlin territory. The ending works pretty well. The detail of Oskar plugging his phone cord in when he finally wants to communicate with his brother was brilliant; I remember my Irish grandfather doing something similar: turning down his hearing aid when he knew he didn't want to hear what his Italian barber had to say. Witzo's film is dealing, very skillfully, with the ways that people hurt and heal, grieve and forgive, reach out and react.

I think this film is enjoyable on multiple levels. It is existential and about facing death. It confronts issues of faith in a straightforward way. The face off in worldview between Oskar and Inger is low key, yet profound.

And for me, in the past three years, I've read Stieg Larsson's Millenium series, 3-5 Jo Nesbo Norwegian detective novels, Henning Mankell and Hakan Nesser's Scandanavian thrillers, as well as starting a series set in Iceland. All deal with horrific violence, abhorrent murderers, damaged heroes raging against the elements and the corruption and the brutality of the world. So, it is just flat out refreshing to see this Norwegian tale of a crabby old man, tuba player, vexed by a thirty year argument with his brother now in New Jersey who yearns to talk to him one last time. And one who rages against his world by machine gunning seagulls. And inspiring others to do the same. Well-done.

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