***½/**** Image C Sound B
starring Stellan Skarsgård, Lena Headey, Ian Hart, Charlotte Rampling
screenplay by Kristin Amundsen, Hans Petter Moland
directed by Hans Petter Moland
by Walter Chaw Hans Petter Moland's third film (and first in English) is assured, stark, and endlessly beautiful. He evokes the long, lonesome noir tableaux of American painter Edward Hopper, capturing with them that ineffable feeling of remoteness, of human distance existing in the midst of forced intimacy. In this way, his work resembles the later efforts of German director Wim Wenders, although Moland isn't a monumentalist so much as an aggressive humanist, marking the Norwegian director as more closely akin to his Scandinavian counterpart, Ingmar Bergman.
Oddly enough, the contemporary picture of which I was most reminded while watching Aberdeen was Mohsen Makhmalbaf's uneven Kandahar, in that both feature female protagonists journeying into the heart of despair at the behest of an ailing loved one. Makhmalbaf's heroine is a prodigal daughter surreptitiously invading a repressive regime, while Moland's is a prodigal daughter forced to confront the demons of dysfunction.
As a film about triangles, Kaisa (the ethereally beautiful Lena Headey) is the daughter, a successful Scot Londonite; ex-oil rigger and drunkard Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) is the father; and Helen (Charlotte Rampling) is the terminally ill mother, whose request for a reunion galvanizes the picture. A second triangle forms as Kaisa and Tomas are banned from an airline conveying them from Oslo to Aberdeen, Scotland (he for his drunkenness and she for her belligerence), forcing them to drive across Norway to catch a ferry. A flat tire introduces truck driver Clive (magnificently blue-collar Ian Hart) along with all manner of humiliation--not all of it physical.
Aberdeen is wonderfully, evocatively written and its cast is exquisitely unself-conscious. The difficult terrain travelled by Kaisa and Tomas--literally and psychologically--is honoured by the picture's devotion to an austere emotional veracity. It's a realism made even more impressive for the beauty of Philip Ogaard's cinematography, all sharp lines and Hoagy Carmichael hues. (No accident, then, that its theme song is "I'm Getting Along Just Fine Without You," written by Carmichael and performed by another doomed junkie, Chet Baker.) With a finer-honed edge than that of Moland's already impressive Zero Kelvin, Aberdeen can't carry its inspiration all the way through to its finale (the only portion of the film that caves, however slightly, to convention), but the maxim that it's not the destination but the journey here holds especially true. Originally published: October 19, 2001.
by Bill Chambers First Run Features is such a small outfit that I'm disinclined to carp about their less-than-stellar DVD presentation of Aberdeen. The film's 1.85:1 letterboxed transfer is non-anamorphic with weak saturation and frame ghosting that looks to be the result of an NTSC conversion from a PAL source, and although it appears that Aberdeen was released to theatres in 5.1 Dolby Digital, the disc's audio is only 2-channel stereo. Neither has First Run time-coded the film on DVD, making it impossible to stop and pick up where you left off. No matter: these are hardly insufferable circumstances, and Aberdeen would be well worth your time under all but the worst viewing conditions. Extras include: a short interview with director Hans Petter Moland (excerpted from something called "Hans Petter Moland for World Beauty") in which the Norwegian filmmaker attempts to define the social and artistic attitudes fostered in Norway; detailed biographies for Moland plus actors Stellan Skarsgård, Lena Headey (dreamy sigh), Ian Hart, and Charlotte Rampling; trailers for 42 Up, Cleopatra's Second Husband, and The Fluffer; and a text-based First Run information page. Originally published: May 8, 2002.