Forgetting the obsession much of the world is having with Nordic tales of crime and minimal hours’ of daylight, Sons of Norway is a coming-of-age story that’s far from predictable and made with mirth and wry observation.
Christmas 1978 and Nikolaj (Asmund Hoeg) is enjoying a feast of roast turkey smothered in bananas with his dippy, hippy architect of a father and doting mother. Christmas dinner is a placard protest of existing understandings of patriarchy combined with Nikolaj’s father’s assertion that all humans are essentially apes and aren’t really the cause of their cultural norms and values, celebrated in the feast of bananas. As you may assume.
This cosy family unit is shattered when Nikolaj’s mother is killed by a hit and run driver and his normally stoical father starts building a glasshouse to cope with his depression.
Without a family unit, Nikolaj finds solace in the punk movement, taking over Northern Europe as much as the U.K and the States. He goes from soft-featured pretty boy with long hair to dyed green scrunge, eyeliner, black clothing and metal pins in the cheeks. Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life and The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen provide the soundtrack to this disaffected and confused kid.
What’s most striking about Son of Norway is that it goes into unexpected places and is never afraid to be a bit off-beat or just plain quirky. At a nudist colony that Nikolaj’s father takes him to, we get the sense of the freedom of being naked, but director Jens Lien makes a beautiful point when Nikolaj is pursued by a naked girl his own age whilst wearing some ill-fitting Union Jack underpants. Sadly, the spirit of punk deserts Nikolaj when he needs it the most.
Punk’s spirit is both admired and ridiculed for its lack of focus, sometimes seeming to be anarchy for its own sake. Even a cameo by the leathery-skinned butter ad sell-out John Lydon doesn’t really offer much insight, but it gives Nikolaj some hope. This culminates in the ultimate in un-cool: Magnus, Nikolaj’s father, offers to stand in for the vomit-sodden drummer in the local punk band. First rule of Punk: adults aren’t allowed to get involved.
Sons of Norway is just about the most original coming-of-age movie in years’. Its subversion of preconceptions and cliche, at times, making up for the predictable moments, with the tenderness between father and son ringing a heartfelt and pertinent truth.
The UK premiere of Sons of Norway will take place at the East End Film Festival on 06 July, followed by a Q&A with Asmund Hoeg.