Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Thelma

Reviews - Thelma


Reviewed By Stephen Pye

On Sunday evening film club goers visited Norway, not the magnificence of the fiords, but a simple wooden dwelling by a lake and indeterminate student blocks in Oslo. Nor was this film, Norway's entry for the foreign film Oscar, the Scandinavian noir which has become so ubiquitous as to be self-parody, but rather a type of Nordic horror movie.
'Thelma' works at various levels, but it’s finally too pleasurable to fit into one box: it’s a coming of age story in the tradition of European art film. It is also a romance, a psychological thriller, a liberation story, and a whodunit (and why). Mostly, and most satisfying, it plays with the female gothic, those unnerving tales in which women are at once the victims and agents of change. The director Joachin Trier has his first major breakthrough, thanks largely to a stupendous performance by Eili Harboe as Thelma, the young biology student whose stifling religious upbringing unleashes disturbing physical symptoms once she  moves away to university and begins to experience student life. Her stern Christian parents are determined to keep a very close eye upon her, monitoring her movements on social media and her I-phone. This surveillance eventually leads to her  breakdown and her return to the country house where she, in near “exorcist” mode,  wreaks her revenge and in turn secures her freedom.
This story then was ever thus since the Salem witchcraft trials. Throw in lesbian love ,a secreted relative, a murdered sibling, and some form of psychic terror,  and you have a good and entertaining film. Where it becomes a cut above then is in the truly gripping performance of  the lead actor as both victim and protagonist, and the director's acute intelligence in making  loneliness  both visceral and visible. This gives the film a prescience and urgency it would not otherwise have had; and which may account for the very positive response in our voting slips.

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