by Alex Elder
Back with a second dose of choice cuts from CPH:DOX, Alex Elder takes a look at some of his favourite Scandi titles from this year’s programming slate. Check out part one
Megaheartz (2023, dir. Emily Norling) (content warning: eating disorder mention)
A woozy, low-res fever dream of a film, Emily Norling’s sophomore feature doc ‘Megaheartz’ is a visceral snapshot of four young women trying to move on with their lives after losing either a lover, a substance dependency or a mixture of both. Complete with a stunning soundtrack from avant-garde popstar Eartheater, ‘Megaheartz’ is mixed media whirlwind which eschews our conception of the filmic subject itself as the four protagonists' voices seem to almost bleed into and overlap over each other.
The pacing and editing deployed is curious and affective, with rapid montages of one of the girls walking a horse to harsh techno music being followed up in quick succession by stretched out moments of another one of the cast looking listlessly out the window as her vehicle glides through a carwash. Operating at polar extremes, we watch poignant moments as the girls talk openly about lovesickness and the anguish of having their hearts captured and held in captivity by previous flames. These scenes rub up next to more artsy shots of streetlights flashing by or undefined slime oozing over rocks.
Jaquline Ronneklew, a recovering addict and artist, spends some time at the start of the film in rehab reflecting on her past life and trying to build a new one from the ground up. She is filmed having a tense phonecall with her probation officer whilst throwing up both middle fingers and pulling faces at her phone. Later, she speaks openly about her struggles with bulimia and admits that the last time she made herself throw up, it might have made her feel good: “What does that say about me? What does that say about society? What does that say about everything that I am feeling good now? Am I feeling good? Or am I feeling bad? How the fuck is the world feeling?”
The disembodied & detuned voice of Ernie, a complete fuckboi who was previously involved with a character named Emma, haunts the audio track of ‘Megaheartz’ as their lengthy text messages exchanges play out. He tries to convince Emma to come to Ibiza, painting it as an idyllic paradise where they can ‘pick up babes together.’ Despite her reservations about him, Emma tries to go and find him in Ibiza but, unsurprisingly, he’s nowhere to be found and no longer picking up his phone.
The film left such a strong impression on me mainly as Norling’s film is organised in such a slippery, hard-to-grasp shape. Its structure seems to slip and slide and most scenarios lack much in the way of contextual signposting about what is unfolding before us. Much like many relationships we struggle with long after they have ended, the narratives of the film aren’t neatly tied up and you know they will linger and carry on long after the credits roll.
Mrs Hansen & the Bad Companions (2023, dir. Jella Bethmann)
Winner of the NORDIC:DOX award this year, ‘Mrs Hansen & the Bad Companions’ was an absolute joy to watch in the cinema at this year’s festival. In this deeply moving and humanist depiction of the compassion that individuals are capable of, the film follows Inger Hansen, an 80-year-old lady who runs a home for social outsiders whom the state is less willing to accept or support.
In sharp contrast to the one-dimensional portrayal we’re used to seeing in the news media, Jella Bethmann’s intimate footage adds a welcome dose of detail and warmth to her subjects with regards to their personalities and dreams as well as touching on their problems. Individuals like René, who has lived in the basement of Inger’s house for 18 years, exemplifies the multitudes that these individuals all possess. He shows Bethmann his extensive airgun collection before beginning to cuddle the litter of kittens he is looking after, describing them as the one thing he needs to come home to.
While there was more than a few chuckles in the auditorium at some of the characters and their idiosyncratic behaviours; such as when Sussi promises on New Year's Eve to cut out the vodka and switch to wine or Martin’s mid-conversation inhale of solvents, I didn’t feel like the filmmaker’s gaze was one of judgment but of tenderness.
Inger is an absolute force of nature and a total inspiration in every frame she fills. She imparts stoic advice to her household or is seen saving flowers that the supermarkets are throwing out so that those who can’t afford them can have a bit of colour in their lives. She even goes dumpster diving with Martin, a favourite tenant of hers, in the dead of night so he can make a bit of cash recycling aluminium cans.
It’s heartbreaking to see her NIMBY neighbours lack of appreciation for her amazing operation. At one point the house gets a warning from the council about a rat infestation that a neighbour has complained of although Inger is adamant that she hasn’t spotted one in over two years and that this is a malicious and false claim.
I won’t spoil this film by going any further with what happens but ‘Mrs Hansen & the Bad Companions’ is a wondrously beautiful film about a group of individuals whose stories are not often told in our visual culture. A worthy winner of one of this year’s awards, it’s a brilliant narrative about acceptance and a love found in unconventional places.
Alex Elder is NTS Radio's resident night watchman, professional content farmer, and film critic. Follow his Twitter