Toronto 2015: 'Homesick' review

There's a strange taboo at the heart of Anne Sewitsky's sophomore directorial effort Homesick (2015), which she also wrote alongside Ragnhild Tronvoll. That taboo is not the subject of incest - which features heavily - but rather acknowledging with that very fact. If you happened to turn away from the screen for a few lines of dialogue, you might entirely miss the fact that the two main characters are long-lost siblings engaging in an affair. In reality, the narrative is far more geared towards examining these two drifting souls - which it does with admirable subtlety - than it is in trying to understand their reasons for hopping in bed together.

Tackling the subject - which has a long history in erotic fiction of various mediums - with objectivity and nuance rather than judgement is a refreshing decision. This is not incest as salacious material for titillation but as the unconventional connection of two disaffected people, whose emotional scars bear the signature of the same hand - their shared mother. The problem is that the ensuing sexual relationship never really develops any thoughtful insight into their respective psychologies than could have been gleaned through a platonic rapport. The sex scenes themselves only provide heavy-handed characterisation: he's vengeful and aggressive; she's passive and numb.

Elsewhere, the capacity for drama surrounding the stigma of their relationship is left entirely untapped, events feel strangely inert despite the abundant potential. Charlotte (played with a gamine air by Ine Marie Wilmann) seems like someone happy in her life, but cast asunder by recent events. Her best friend with whom he she has always been inseparable has just married and her father is critically ill in hospital - her mother (Anneke von der Lippe) has always been inattentive. This confluence of events prompts her to seek out the half-brother that she has never known; Henrik (Simon J. Berger). There is clearly a spark when they first meet as they bond over a mother who has been absent for both of them in one way or another. Both of the leads are assured in the roles though Berger has a lot less to work with. It is Charlotte whose arc is really being explored, but the oblique nature of the screenplay provides little hint as to why the events matter. Emotionally overwrought when her father eventually passes away, this is like a crucible in which she must forge an identity for herself - though if this incestuous tryst is merely a catalyst for this, it seems a strange choice. Either way, the cinematography is a cold Scandinavian hue that speaks to the isolation felt by the characters and the scenes in which Charlotte and Henrik meet and flirt due crackle with tension. It's a more confident directorial display from Sewitsky after the enjoyable Happy, Happy, but the script for Homesick just doesn't quite land.

The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from 10-20 September 2015. For more coverage, follow this link.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson


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