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Authentic film art

NORWEGIAN GAME MOVIE: Itonje Søimer Guttormsens Gritt is made with a different method than most feature films and is a fascinating and rarely refreshing Norwegian debut film.

The Norwegian feature film Gritt is about a performance artist who struggles to complete an ambitious art project and follows her experiences in Oslo's alternative theater and art environments after a long stay abroad. Whether this starting point may seem somewhat navel-gazing, the debuting feature film director Itonje Søimer Guttormsen takes the metaphorical bull by the horns already from the impact. We are introduced to the film's main character Gritt Dahl (played by Birgitte Larsen) in conversation with author and actress Marte Wexelsen Goksøyr – who, like many other cultural personalities in the film, plays a version of herself – about their respective project ideas, whereupon Gritt warns Goksøyr against not becoming more self-absorbed than political in shaping their concept.

The following scene takes place at a Norwegian-American cultural exchange event in New York, where Gritt participates, as what she calls, Undercover support contact for Goksøyr, who has Down syndrome. The sequence ends with actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal saying in a stage interview that they, as performing artists, should be careful not to become too navel-gazing. The statement is probably aimed at the Knausgård wind that blows over the event, but nevertheless appears as one of the film's many metafictional moves. And let it be said: despite the fact that the filmmaker obviously has personal knowledge of the challenges, as well as the environments she portrays, is experienced Gritt neither as self-absorbed nor navel-gazing.

Authentic and distinctive

Environmental depictions with genuine and recognisable roots in reality have. in my eyes, been a miss in Norwegian film. However, there are some very honourable exceptions, such as Joachim Trier's Oslo films. But many Norwegian feature films are about generic portrayals of "an ordinary guy" (or a woman, or a couple) who have to go through some unusual events, with a lack of specific, socio-cultural affiliation that weakens the films' overall credibility. Gritt is, in turn, added to distinctly authentic environments from the capital's artistic and subcultural sphere, and one must follow it closely to get all the cultural acquaintances that emerge. Through both clips and photographs – largely documentary in expression, but at times almost surreal – the film simultaneously creates a distinctive and captivating fictional universe, which it is fascinating to be in as a spectator.

Gritt is perceived as neither self-absorbed nor navel-gazing.

A central environment in the film is The Theater of Cruelty Hausmania, to which Gritt is attached – to eventually break trust due to his violent urge to act. Along the way, she will also meet a women's collective that cultivates witch performances and the myth of Lilith, with director Guttormsen himself among the participants. Between several of the scenes, Gritt's narrator's voice formulates various considerations that seem related to her project, but which can be anything from diary notes, the project description from an application for support, or an artistic manifesto (The caption states that this is taken from an essay by Susanna Vikør Egenes).

Gritt (Still)

Hunger and subculture

With its depiction of a desperate artist who almost starves herself through the days and nights in an unpleasant Oslo, the film evokes clear associations with Hamsun Hunger. Gritt does not seek any conventional relationship or physical love, but if we are to continue the comparison with the novel, the realization of the collective ritual can The white inflammation or another art project is considered Gritt's «Ylajali». However, it is just as relevant to see Gritt as a modern counterpart to the Norwegian feature film X from 1986, directed by Oddvar Einarson. This film also presents a cool and not very hospitable version of the capital combined with scenes from the city's seemingly authentic subcultures and underground scenes, where experimental certainly plays a more prominent role. And not least, both films have a clear artistic signature from the filmmaker in both form and narrative.

An excellent example to follow for a more exploratory, process-oriented and less streamlined type of film.

Gritt contains many humorous moments, which particularly spring from the main character's lack of self-irony and equal unwillingness to compromise. The various art environments and their supporters are also not portrayed without a certain satirical sting, but the film never tips into disrespect – as it also takes the main character's attempt to find her place outside the established norms seriously. Gritt's work with Syrian asylum seekers on a play, for example, could easily have ridiculed her relatively safe life but rather gives sympathy with the main character and insight into her creative work. In addition, it builds up a subtly told dramaturgical curve towards a form of collapse.

Liberating process

The script was prepared by the filmmaker with contributions from actress Birgitte Larsen, who makes an outstanding achievement as the heartfelt, isolated and exceptionally strong-willed main character. The two also collaborated on the same character before. Gritt was first portrayed in the short story film Retreat (2016), which this feature film is a continuation of.

Birgitte Larsen and Itonje Søimer Guttormsen. Photo: Ingrid Eggen

Appropriately, the film is made in an unconventional way, with separate shooting periods over a much longer time than one usually sets aside for the filming of features, and consistently recorded on the actual rentals. Guttormsen, who also has a background in directing at the Norwegian Film School, wrote a master's thesis on his method at Akademi Valand in Gothenburg with the motto «more trust, less security». The rigid form of production that is usually sought after for feature films hardly gives room for the playfulness, authenticity and profit that characterises Gritt – which thus stands as an excellent example to follow for a more exploratory, process-oriented and less streamlined type of film.

In any case, the director herself does not intend to let go of either the method or the main character, because Gritt is scheduled to appear in more films in the future. It will be exciting to follow them both further.

Gritt has recently been shown at the film festivals in Tromsø, Rotterdam and Gothenburg and is now shown below Kosmorama film festival. It is scheduled to have its Norwegian cinema premiere on 7 May.

Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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