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The function of oblivion

The Tale
Regissør: Jennifer Fox

The Tale is an autobiographical and ambivalent tale of abuse and subsequent trauma, based on director Jennifer Fox's own experiences as a child. 


"Tell about your first sexual experience!" The question is asked to a young student in front of a crowded hall. Famously, the young, cocky girl tries to describe the good feeling – without using the word "orgasm". "If you can't talk about sex, you can't expect to make a good documentary either!"

We are witnessing media professor Jennifer Fox getting swept up in the notion of herself and her happy memory of her own sexual debut. The relentless aggressiveness of the scene provokes discomfort. Actor Laura Dern appears with intensity, depth and credibility as never before – the director has chosen the right actor to carry her autobiographical story.

The character also bears the director's own name, to avoid doubting the authenticity of this complex story. It is well-told, but it is still a thing of concern: Is this because director Jennifer Fox even struggles to remember? In the film, she uses this as an intriguing grip: The protagonist's memories slip – past abuse is hidden behind a veil of protective mechanisms, and the pursuit of truth encounters unexpected resistance – from herself. What is more precious and hardly survives the light of truth? Her refusal hides something complex and taboo. The dramaturgy of the film is built around these counterpoints, and The Tale reflects on the stories we tell to protect ourselves. But is the director ready to let go of the protection?


Oslo Pix lives on in the festival street, which for the occasion has been transformed into a colorful beach bar with sand and foodtrucks. Inside a dark and cool movie theater, Jennifer Fox shows her autobiographical film. She has come from the US to share thoughts on the process and the film at the industry seminar in Oslo. But I refuse to experience her movie story with many strangers. The topic is difficult. Limits are exceeded. A child's sexuality is tampered with.

The story is well told, but the plot has flaws.

The director has wisely chosen an unusual distribution. One of the big streaming companies, HBO, finances the film and ensures that the audience has the opportunity to watch the movie for themselves, with the opportunity to stop if it becomes too scary.

The movie is bad, but not in the way I thought. The director's handling of his own history is challenging. It is only within the four walls of the home that I am able to take in this grueling, courageous and honest story.

Is the director allowed to start with an elevated glorification of those who manipulated her into believing that the border crossings were her own choice? Young Jennifer refuses to be a victim; Adult Jennifer does the same. Both reject their loved ones, drawn with full force towards the painful and harmful. "I choose my life myself," says young Jennifer. The child does not agree with the adult woman, who tries to clarify the memories that slip away.


Fragmentation and distortion of events drives the film forward, but one thing is clear: Young Jennifer hates her family. The way it is portrayed reveals that the director shares these feelings. This duality is suggestive. How close has Fox come to the various relationships and processing of central memories? Some places lack it. Confrontation and settlement are missing. Obviously, there are subcommunicated conflicts, which it may have been too early to address for Fox.

Does it make the movie less striking that the narrator is in the middle of a process she may never complete – or want to complete? Why doesn't Jennifer's character respond to those who should have seen, who should have reacted? Or on those who tacitly helped? When we then learn more, it is as if the seams in the weave are shaking.

The plot has flaws, it doesn't go up. Still, the movie carries this in a weird, defiant way. It is as if the child Jennifer – in her ambivalent chaos of love, pain and need to be seen and loved – is willing to expose herself to anything, just to get a new identity and reality. Here, the filmmaker makes me argue: In the light of reflection and as an adult, can she not allow this? Director Jennifer insists, the young Jennifer is oblique and repeatedly goes right into the pain, desperate to be released from the invisibility she so desperately hates: in the screams, screams and chewy mess of the Jewish aboriginal family, no one sees Jennifer and her hurt needs. (This everyday battlefield gives associations to Edith Carlmar's classic Never anything but trouble.)

abuse report

The Tale Clarifies the dysfunctionality and aggression Jennifer escapes from: The beautiful riding teacher Mrs. G. and the trusty, handsome trainer Bill are both dangerously tempting. Even when the mother confronts the adult Jennifer with an old-school style, which describes in detail what should never happen between children and adults, both the young girl and the adult doubt the feelings we others do not like to hear about in connection with abuse.

A child's sexuality is tampered with.

Mrs. G. is portrayed with a strict elegance and sovereignty, recognizable from Hitchcock's icy heroines. When we meet Mrs. G. in the present, her personality and power has become so washed out that she is like an old cloth. Here, too, the credibility is chirping; Still, I accept it because Fox's movie is a story the director creates to be able to move on at all.

For a long time, the adult and the purebred Jennifer agree: This experience was important and beautiful. But then the adult turns abruptly, and finally the narrative gains momentum and longed for consistency. Beauty's veil of manipulation and exploitation – an unusual grip in an abusive story and that separates The Tale from other films – has a slight taste. Had Jennifer Fox not been in charge, parts of the story would soon have been classified as reprehensible. But it is precisely the insistence on the forbidden feelings of the child that bears the honest and very bold story. A story that is also ambivalent to the director himself.  

The Tale is now on HBO Nordic
and was featured on Oslo Pix recently.

Ellen Lande
Ellen Lande
Lande is a film writer and director and a regular writer for Ny Tid.

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