I’m not sure what I’m suppose to make of Alma, the central character of writer and director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s study of adolescent sexual awakening. I’m also not sure it’s totally my fault. Alma (played with youthful angst by Helene Bergsholm) is the victim of one of those typical high school misunderstandings. She has this thing for fellow classmate Artur and at a party she goes outside to wait for him. When he appears, he doesn’t talk to her, but suddenly, out of nowhere, he takes out his erect penis and pokes her with it (awkward). She then tells best friend and resident mean girl, who also has a thing for Artur. When Artur denies it, Alma finds herself as outcast as Hester Prynne. Don’t you just hate when that happens? Anyway, the reason I’m not sure what I’m to make of Alma is that there seems to be two through lines here. The first is the aforementioned being pricked by a prick with his prick (not bad, huh?). The other more closely resembles a Scandinavian remake of Shame with a high school girl in the Michael Fassbender role. When Alma isn’t being shunned, she’s racking up enormous phone bills having phone sex with an on-line service while masturbating on her kitchen floor; has increasingly wild sexual fantasies, one while manning a cash register at a store, publicly using a roll of coins to help her achieve orgasm; and stealing porn magazines. When her mother confronts her, she just says she’s horny. Okay, fair enough. But one almost gets the idea that we’re suppose to think that Alma is just going through a typical teenage phase. But the problem isn’t her interest in sex; that is normal. What makes her life seen more like the movie Shame is her inability, not her choice, but her inability to be discreet about it. In the last third of the movie, Alma, having had enough and getting no support, takes off for Oslo to meet the sister of the mean girl, who is in college, in order to get advice. At this point, Alma’s sexual addiction is dropped as if it never existed and suddenly the movie becomes incredibly sweet and even moving. The college kids take her very seriously (something no one else will do), mainly by making her realize how trivial what has happened to her will seem in a few years when she also goes away. Now that she’s seen her future, she’s able to return home and take control of the present. It’s a nice ending to a perplexing beginning.
I also had a difficult time getting into Andre Techine’s Unforgivable, but I would like to mount a defense. The story revolves around a writer of Gothic thrillers whose daughter very quickly disappears whereupon he hires a private investigator to find out what happened. I’m sorry. I really, really thought, based on this, that I was involved in a film noir. Instead, as became clear toward the end of the movie, the rambling feel of the plot and the lack of any central through line was not due to the writers’ failure (screenplay by Techine and Mehda Ben Attia) to focus on the mystery. It was because there was never a mystery in the first place. Instead, Unforgivable is more an ensemble character study of a group of people whose lives intersect at the same time as in his earlier film The Witnesses. But by the time I figured this out, the film was almost over and it was just too late to switch gears. My bad, I guess. Techine is one of my favorite French directors and is responsible for such films as Wild Reeds, Alice and Martin, Scene of the Crime and the aforementioned The Witnesses. But this one left me cold, the only scene that startled and unnerved me was a vicious and pointless act of cruelty toward a dog, a “that’ll teach that fag basher a lesson” moment (not sure about the owner, but that dog certainly did learn a thing or two—or would of if he had made it through alive). In the end, the movie does have Techine’s strengths, fully developed characters at an internal crossroads in their lives and strong acting. But it just never came together for me.