We’re now past the halfway point of MSPIFF and I’ve seen about nine movies so far… wish I had seen more of course but hey, I’ll take whatever I can get as I’m juggling a 40-hour workweek. These two films couldn’t be more different from one another, but both are definitely worth your while.
The Hamlet Syndrome (documentary)
I had Hamlet very much on my mind all day when I went to see this Polish-German documentary about Ukraine. I watched this a couple of hours before I attended a conversation with the director and lead actor of a local stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular play.
Directed by Elwira Niewara and Piotr Rosolowksi, the documentary centers on five young performers staging their version of Hamlet mere months before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. What sets this stage adaption apart from others is the people involved relate their own harrowing war experiences in a bare, dilapidated theater with barely any set pieces or even decent lighting. Yet the existential dilemma instilled in the famous line ‘To be or not to be,’ or ‘to go or not to go’ in this case, has a chilling implication in the context of wartime.
The rehearsal process doubles as therapy sessions as the stage offers a safe space for these young Ukrainians to process their grief and trauma. As they prepare for the performance, they express their anger and repressed aggression or lament about the brutality of war, with their emotional wound still intense and raw. There is some footage of soldiers in captivity but even without the visuals, the detailed descriptions of their traumatic experiences are heart-wrenching enough. The atrocities aren’t just contained on the battlefield, a young man who escaped the conflict in Donbas struggles with homophobia.
The Hamlet Syndrome is not an easy watch, but it’s not without tender and even moments of levity between father/mother and son/daughter doing simple everyday things such as playing Ping Pong or picking fruits from a tree… while always reminding us that death is never far away. While Ukraine is in the news constantly, it’s tough not to be affected by personal tales from those who are actually there fighting on the frontlines defending their country. It’s especially agonizing to read the epilogue stating that the performers are now back on the battlefield once again.
People do the craziest things when they have a crush on someone or want to fit in… double whammy for Mina when both hit her at the same time.
Directed by Norwegian director Aurora Gossé and written by Silje Holtet, Dancing Queen isn’t exactly groundbreaking but it sure is delightful to watch. A coming-of-age story of a nerdy girl who struggles to find her footing, I was immediately taken by its protagonist Mina, thanks to Gossé’s lively direction and Liv Elvira Kippersund Larsson in her acting debut. In fact, most of the young cast are unknown, so we get refreshingly honest, albeit not-quite polished performances.
The obvious nod to ABBA’s iconic song makes sense, with its celebration of youth and feeling the freedom of dance. Now, Mina didn’t start with having ‘the time of her life’ on her attempts at hip-hop for the Mjøsa Challenge dance competition, inspired by her crush on the popular E.D. Win (Viljar Knutsen Bjaadal). As fate would have it, Mina gets paired with E.D. by the dance instructor Shaan (Cengiz Al), only to be disappointed time and again by E.D.’s arrogance.
The only person Mina can turn to is her wise, free-spirited grandma (Anne Marit Jacobsen) as her parents simply don’t understand Mina’s newfound passion. There’s a hint about Mina’s mother’s (Andrea Bræin Hovig) childhood past that makes her resentful of her mother and the fact that she is coaching Mina. The hilarious and heart-warming scenes between Mina and her grandma are my favorites, though Gossé isn’t afraid to inject moments of pathos.
While Gossé made this movie for young adults, there are mature themes such as emphasis on body positivity and confronting toxic behaviors. Mina herself has plenty of eye-opening lessons by the end, especially in regard to her loyal bestie Markus (Sturla Puran Harbitz) whom she cast aside when she was consumed by her dance ambition.
Filmed in the beautiful lakeshore town of Hamar, I absolutely adore the scenery by DP Åsmund Hasli. I find the day-to-day life humor funny and charming, and of course, the music and dance scenes are a joy to watch. Yes, it’s predictable and I could see exactly where the story is going but it doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. For a country known for its dark thrillers, I’m definitely diggin’ this Nordic family movie that’ll get you in the mood for a dance.
MSPIFF42 continues until next Thursday, April 27
Stay tuned for more MSPIFF reviews next week!
5 thoughts on “#MSPIFF42 Double Reviews: The Hamlet Syndrome (documentary) + Dancing Queen”
I’d like to check these films out. Adding to the watchlist.
Awesome! I sure hope these small movies get distribution after their film festival run.
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