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[Fantastic Fest Review]…Norway

NORWAY_FF2014A quick glance at the synopsis for the Greek film Norway is sure to grab your attention with this line, “a vampire who must dance to keep his heart beating”. Even if the film is an utter mess, it sounds like a train wreck worth the price of admission. Good news is that while the log line sounds ridiculously comical, this film, from the production team behind Dogtooth (one of the more captivating but odd films of the past 10 years) is weirdly interesting on many levels. It never gets where it’s going but still, writer/director Yiannis Veslemes has to be lauded for putting such a wildly unique spin on a tired mythology like vampires.

Now the renewed interest in vampires may be waning, but they’re always in vogue provided they’re handled correctly. Plus, how can they fail to make an appearance at something like Fantastic Fest? More like a comic book than a satisfying narrative, Norway has a distinct look and, unfortunately, that’s about all it has going for it. Veslemes recreates the worst of ’80s fashion (the kind that people from that decade tried so hard to forget) but while the film doesn’t work, the Alamo Drafthouse could mine these stylized sequences/characters for bumper material for years.

This mix between Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Terry Gilliam doesn’t really go anywhere. But at the very least, the main character Zano leaves very little mystery to what Al Pacino might look, or act, like were he to play a vampire. As the story goes, Zano doesn’t kill unless he has to. He’s a drug addict and an alcoholic but he’s not violent. Yet, even immortals are swayed by manipulative women and Zano is roped into helping Elena with a job she has to do. Also, having turned a man named Peter into a vampire (whom Zano deemed as competition), Peter becomes the third wheel in this drawn out quest.

However, things are further complicated because, as a newly turned vampire, Peter has been regressed to a state of infancy. If this sounds weird to read it, is even more so to actually watch it progress. It plays like an attempt to make a surreal feature cobbled together from the more zany parts of The Mighty Boosh and any number of Guillermo del Toro films. Admirable, but again, it just doesn’t go anywhere.

Under the cover perpetual darkness, the trio – the dancing silver-haired wanderer, the vixen, and the infant – traverse hillsides, mountain faces and labyrinthine tunnels to where Zano might finally help Elena with her clandestine task. Soon, it’s revealed that Zano must go from vampire to vampire hunter. On paper, it probably seems like an interesting twist. But his target is just absurd and that’s where things just get crazy for the sake of being crazy. To quote Edward Norton in Fight Club, “we have just lost cabin pressure“.

The strange story becomes a deranged and prolonged music video (sans any worthwhile music of course) and things continually make less and less sense. In a way, everyone in the 74 minute film is damned so they are products of their own tortured environment. In the end, Norway is a head-scratcher because it doesn’t seem to know what it is. An experiential effort from someone whose background is nothing but music videos and short films? Perhaps, but Yiannis Veslemes’ doesn’t make for a good film though.