The fact that Scandinavia has been producing some of the most daring and original films in recent years is hardly news anymore. Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and now Norway seem to be growing up a generation of talented filmmakers that will have plenty to say in the years to come. I sense a great deal of excitement in the region and more importantly there seems to be an impressive willingness from both directors and actors to be as productive as possible.
One of the truly entertaining films I saw last year was what Norway selected as their Oscar-entry in 2004. The film in question: Erik Poppe's Hawaii, Oslo (2004). A colorful mosaic of unusual human stories Hawaii, Oslo takes place during one of Norway's hottest summer nights in…well, the Norwegian capital Oslo. There we meet five different characters that will eventually have their lives intertwined in a most unusual way.
The first character we see is a man working on the supporting staff of the local hospital in Oslo. The little that we manage to learn about him is that he sleeps and dreams a lot often seeing events inspired by "reality". In one of those dreams the man sees a favorite patient who gets killed by a rushing ambulance.
The second character in Hawaii, Oslo is a woman undergoing a severe identity crisis. Once again from the little that we are provided with it appears that years ago the woman abandoned her children and left with another man in search for a better life. We see her holding a small medicine bottle while silently feeding her little kitty with a deadly dose of sleeping pills. In a matter of minutes the woman will attempt to take her own life.
The third character is a young man locked up in a state penitentiary who has been granted a day off to attend the birthday of his mentally-challenged brother. He appears visibly excited, in good spirit, and ready to surprise his brother. The man wears a red Hawaiian shirt with some funny looking yellow flowers. He has decided that the short "day-off" will indeed be the last time he would have to change clothes under the piercing eyes of the nearby prison guard.
The fourth character we see is a thirty-something man, drenched in sticky sweat, holding in his shaky hands his newly-born son. The man appears happy, overly-excited, and unsure what would be the best name for his baby. A few hours from now the medical staff at Oslo's most prestigious hospital will reveal to him that his son has a deadly heart-complication that will cut the blood flow to his tiny body in about a week. The doctors will suggest that it would be best if the man and his wife spend as much time with their son as possible.
The fifth character is a man who suffers from periodic anxiety attacks forcing him to perform in some rather strange ways. The man has been waiting for ten years to reunite with his high school sweetheart who has arrived in Oslo to celebrate his birthday. In a few hours the man will also be surprised by his older brother who has just flown in from Hawaii.
Before I began writing the review for Hawaii, Oslo I debated for a long time whether or not I should provide the names of the main characters in this story. Why? I thought that it would be great if somehow I preserved the sense of chaos Hawaii, Oslo delivers during the first half-hour. I decided to leave you unprepared and as much as possible unsure about what would happen in this film just as I was uncertain about how exactly Erik Poppe will manage to link all of the tiny stories together. So, I hope that Hawaii, Oslo has the same effect on you as it had on me.
With all of the above being said there is no other way to summarize this film but to say that it is indeed one of the best-produced Norwegian pictures in quite some time. Hawaii, Oslo offers an original and quite complicated story (for the record, those attempting to draw fictional parallels between Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia and Hawaii, Oslo are simply missing the message of this film) that initially seems almost impossible to decipher. The rich characters appear so disconnected from each other that there hardly seems to be a logical thread that could bind them together. Yet, as the film progresses, piece by piece, the human mosaic I referred to in the opening paragraphs slowly transforms into an utterly captivating story about love and missed opportunities. Indeed, this is a great and impeccably structured film that was rightfully selected as Norway's Oscar-entry in 2004.
The main reason why Hawaii, Oslo works is the manner in which the story is being told. The fractured narrative that Erik Poppe favors brings an unusual flavor to what at first appears only as a mix of incoherent film clips. I felt both unsure and at the same time curious to find out how such a complicated mix of human stories can be put together and to my surprise the more I saw from Hawaii, Oslo the more I wanted to find out about each of the main protagonists. And I was not disappointed!! Like a good chef Erik Poppe provided enough to tease my appetite until the main course was served. And believe me the culmination of this story is worth every second you would spend on it. Certainly that would be the case if you happen to appreciate clever filmmaking!
In 2005 Hawaii, Oslo won the Best Film and Best Screenplay Awards (Harald Rosenlow-Eeg) at the Amandautdelingen Awards, Norway. The film was also nominated for the Tiger Award (Erik Poppe) during the Rotterdam International Film Festival (2005).
Official Film Site and Trailer:
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Hawaii, Oslo appears to have been mastered from a secondary PAL source. Nevertheless, the image is exceptionally strong with a great degree of contrast, nicely saturated colors, and no print damage that I could spot. During most of the night scenes there seems to a tiny bit of softness to the image but I am certain that is how the film was shot. Furthermore, I did not spot any disturbing compression artifacts which leads me to believe that the source used for this DVD must have been closely associated with the R2 Norwegian release. Indeed, if not for the fact that this appears to be a PAL port (yet, a passable one) Hawaii, Oslo could have looked exceptionally well.
How Does the DVD Sound?
The only option provided for this release is a Norwegian 2.0 track with optional English subtitles which does indeed sound quite well. The actual film soundtrack however is quite impressive and I certainly think that if one is to see this film with a well mixed DTS track one would utterly impressed. Nevertheless, what Film Movement offer here is in good condition as I did not notice any disturbing audio drops or distracting hissings/pop-ups.
In a typical for Film Movement manner the DVD for Hawaii, Oslo provides a nice short film titled "Harold: the Amazing Contortionist Pig" directed by Carl Prechezer. The story is rather interesting as it follows the fate of a charming (but ordinary) piggy who somehow manages to transform into a circus star. The question which Carl Prechezer seems to be asking in this only 8 min. feature is: was it worth it. I certainly could not make up my mind! Next, there is a fimography and a cast-bio of those involved in Hawaii, Oslo as well as a promotional generic trailer for other Film Movement releases.
Despite of the harsh words some Norwegian critics had about Hawaii, Oslo I enjoyed this film a great deal. Erik Poppe's style reminded me a lot about the Danish-produced Reconstruction (2003) directed by Christopher Boe. The edgy camera work, the original script, and the haunting soundtrack certainly transform this film into a most memorable experience. If not for the PAL-sourced print this could have been a perfect DVD. Still, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.