In late-1970s Norway, 13-year-old Nikolaj (Åsmund Høeg) is dealing with the tragic death of his mother and the hippy oddities of his father Magnus (Sven Nordin). Embracing punk rock as an outlet for his grief and anger, Nikolaj finds his attempts at rebellion are somewhat stymied by the unconditional acceptance (and frequent nakedness) of his easy-going dad.
BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: A tender father-son relationship lies at the heart of director Jens Lien’s Sons of Norway, a winning blend of rambunctious humour and deeply affecting pathos.
a fresh twist to the coming-of-age genre
Giving a fresh twist to the coming-of-age genre, the film is set in the late 1970s when the punk rock movement and its associated rebellious, anarchic attitudes were heavily influencing – some might say corrupting – many young folks.
The super-smart and unpredictable screenplay is by Nikolaj Frobenius, based on his semi-autobiographical 2004 novel Theory and Practice. Frobenius grew up in the Oslo suburb of Rykinn, where people of different classes were meant to live peacefully side by side, albeit in ugly houses and apartments, in line with Norway’s social democratic philosophies.
The protagonist is 14-year-old Nikolaj (Åsmund Høeg) who lives with his parents Magnus and Lone and younger brother Peter. Magnus (Sven Nordin), an architect who rails against conformity, is an unconventional, free-spirited guy. He exhibits a strange fondness for bananas, likens men to apes and gleefully joins in when the kids at a Christmas gathering march around with placards chanting 'Smash the patriarch".
Nor is he fazed when his sons enter the bedroom while he’s making love with his wife, although she shoos them away. Nikolaj sports long, girlish hair but shears his locks after he’s taunted by local toughs.
The family’s peace and harmony are shattered when Lone (Sonja Richter) is fatally injured when she’s struck by a car while riding her bicycle in a hit-and-run. There’s a heart-rending scene in hospital when doctors switch off her life support system while the rest of the family watches, mute with grief. Magnus is traumatised but he’s comforted and supported by Nikolaj, a reversal of the usual father-son dynamic.
Peter is sent to live with his aunt and uncle while Nikolaj is introduced to the punk scene by Anton (Trond Nilssen), an older boy who worships the Sex Pistols. Nikolaj and his best friend Tor (Tony Veitsle Skarpsno) adopt the piercings, Gothic clothes and aggro attitude of that sub-culture.
Magnus is remarkably tolerant of his son’s excesses although he does question what the Sex Pistols actually stand for. The tone darkens further when Nikolaj and his punk friends cause havoc at a shopping centre then lob a rock at an official at a Constitution Day celebration.
But the mood lightens again when Magnus and his son take off on a motorbike to Sweden, ending up at a nudist colony, which results in several hilarious scenes.
In his first film role, Høeg is terrific as a sensitive, good-hearted lad who’s forced to grow up fast after his mum dies and experiments with the punk lifestyle before his father helps put him on a more stable course. He eloquently conveys his shifting emotions via facial expressions and body language.
Bushy-bearded, bespectacled and highly animated, Nordin is a hoot as Magnus, a middle-aged hippie who urges his son to live by this credo: 'Don’t bother others, be fair and kind. Otherwise do as you like."
John Lydon, aka the Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, makes a brief but amusing cameo offering advice to his young protégé. Lydon also serves as an executive producer, which presumably means he approves of the narrative’s revisionist history of the punk era. The soundtrack includes a number of Sex Pistols songs as well as aggressive anthems played by a Rykinn punk band.