Leeds Film Festival 2010: Day 12

Elling (Nor) (site)

Elling was showing as part of the festival's retrospective selection, and dates from 2001. Ultra-reclusive Elling is found by the police cowering in a cupboard, completely helpless as a child after his overprotective mother dies. While in a care home, he finds himself sharing a room with Kjell, a clumsy oaf who shares Elling's fear of the outside world, but otherwise is his exact opposite. Brash and unwashed, his over-active but underfed libido causing him to have ladies on the brain 24 hours a day, impulsive Kjell somehow bonds with the hesitant and morally upstanding Elling and the two become close like squabbling brothers.

Their little world shatters when they are ejected from the seclusion of the care home and given a flat in Oslo to live in as a halfway house, on their way back to normal life. Along with the deal strides the confident Frank, a social worker with little patience, there to encourage them to get out an interact with the world; if they don't, they will lose their flat and will be out on their ear. They don't even know how to answer a telephone.

I apologise to the Norwegians for the quality of this American trailer.

Elling was Oscar nominated in 2002 and it's easy to see why. It's a fantastic and gentle little film with plenty of memorable scenes and lots of laughs; it's very funny indeed, the sex-mad Kjell bringing a lot of the jokes as Elling's foil, and the balance between funny and poignant as they become more outgoing in their own ways and thus begin to lose their close bond, is pitched just right. Well worth seeing. 8.5/10

The Art of Negative Thinking (Nor) (wiki)

What might best be described as a well-organised descent into chaos, The Art of Negative Thinking takes the fragile stability of a 'positivity group', four timid souls each trying to heal themselves after some personal tragedy, and applies a badly aimed hammer in the form of Geirr at it. Miserable, angry and with a jet black sense of humour, Geirr spends his time purposelessly wheeling himself about his house, some unknown accident leaving him wheelchair bound. Driven to the edge, his despairing wife Ingvild has taken the bold step of inviting the small group to their house for introductions, something that Tori, the organiser of the group approaches with her usual confidence, even in the face of Geirr's flat out refusal to cooperate. After all, she is an expert.

It doesn't take long for Geirr's poisonously negative attitude to infect the fragile shell that Tori has spent many long months trying to build around her subjects, but as the walls begin to break down, it is clear that the group members have their own problems and frustrations that are not being addressed by Tori's highly-rated techniques.

Although Elling pipped it for sheer enjoyment, this could have been a highlight if it had been shown on a different day. The deliciously decadent idea of sending a fragile group of souls into the quagmire that they have just managed to struggle out of, betting against the odds that they will somehow come out okay at the other side is a very guilty pleasure, with each laugh from the increasingly chaotic situation coming on the back of a feeling that you really shouldn't be laughing. But to label it as straight comedy is wrong, as the relationships in the group develop and broaden, and there is a genuine heart to the film in the quieter bits. Even though they are heading over the cliff on a wave of funny, we care enough for them to not go over the edge. 8/10

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