A Human Position review – slow, lingering love story in dreamy, small-town Norway

“What is the best thing about Norway?” asks the leading character in this intriguing film from Norwegian writer-director Anders Emblem. Her friend answers: “Mountains? A-ha?” To which the original speaker replies that she was actually thinking more of things like the welfare state. It’s a quibbling, playful, thoughtful exchange, which appears also to coincide with tentative sexual advances, and it’s very characteristic of this elegant, seriocomic, beautifully shot, slow-cinema piece with some great cat acting and quirky touches of Murakami.

Asta (Amalie Ibsen Jensen) is a young woman who lives with Live (Maria Agwumaro) in an airy apartment in the Norwegian port town of Ålesund, opposite a derelict building at which Asta is often seen gazing thoughtfully. Live is a carpenter who specialises in repairing chairs. She also likes to play the electric organ that the landlord has left in the attic. In what appears to be a lull in her personal and professional life, Asta applies to the local newspaper, Sunnmørsposten, for temporary shift work. After working on some stories about fan discontent with the local football team, and greedy developers threatening to destroy the art nouveau architecture for which the town is famous, Asta hits on a story that means something to her: an asylum seeker called Aslan who has been forcibly repatriated. She sets out to discover more about him and appears reasonably content with the resulting sombre article about Norwegians’ troubled conscience – though the question of where Aslan is now is another matter.

In fact, Asta (and Live) may both be more distracted by the issue of Asta’s depression and possible self-harm. Everything that we see on screen: all the slow establishing shots, the angular visual compositions, all the bright, palate-cleansing tableaux of the town and its steep picturesque lanes, the sweet shots of the cat, the newspaper investigating and the chairs … It may all just be displacement activity. It may all simply be about Asta’s healing – or about her reluctance to heal. And this healing also plays a part in the fact that Live appears to be in love with Asta.

And the emptiness of the town is itself arresting. The pandemic isn’t mentioned and no-one is wearing masks. But I wonder if Emblem hasn’t adopted a kind of lockdown aesthetic for his movie, a deliberate dream-like emptiness. A Human Position is a question mark of a film with its elusive, happy-sad tone. It lingered in my mind.

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