Blind (2014)

Norway / 92 minutes / color / Motlys, Lemming Dir & Scr: Eskil Vogt Pr: Hans-Jørgen Osnes, Sigve Endresen Cine: Thimios Bakatakis Cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali, Marius Kolbenstvedt, Stella Kvam Young, Isak Nikolai Møller, Jacob Young, Nikki Butenschøn, Erle Kyllingmark, Fredrik Sandahl.

Blind - 0 opener

A young woman called Ingrid (Petersen) has recently fallen blind. She is terrified of leaving the apartment her husband, Morten (Rafaelsen), has bought for them, and just sits around all day, letting her imagination roam free, while he’s out at work at his architectural office.

Blind - 1 Ingrid

Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), living the inward life.

Since her fears make it impossible for her to go outside herself, she creates a pair of imaginary characters who can, as it were, do the going outside, and the seeing, for her. After a while she extends her tales to include what she imagines Morten might be up to when he’s out of the apartment—or even, unseen, in it; he becomes, in effect, a third character in her fantasies.

Einar (Kolbenstvedt), the first imaginary personality, is a social misfit, a homely-looking man who lacks the courage to meet women; instead, he sits in front of his computer every evening, watching hardcore online porn, indulging his fetishes and busily masturbating. (We witness a few brief extracts of the porn. If you decide to watch the movie, be warned of this. Overall, Blind is certainly not for the younger members of the family, however much they might protest otherwise.) His special fetish is long hair; during the day he walks the streets eyeing the long hair of the young women yearningly.

Blind - 2 Einar

Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt), aching for an unknown intimacy.

Blind - 3 Einaar's record collection

Einar’s record collection.

The other personality is Elin (Vitali), a divorced young Swedish teacher who came to Oslo ten years ago. She shares with her ex-husband (Jacob Young) the custody of their ten-year-old child, Kim. Ingrid is undecided whether Kim is a girl (Stella Kvam Young) or a boy (Møller), so we see both versions alternately.

This isn’t the only discrepancy we see in Ingrid’s fancied accounts of her characters’ activities. For example, a conversation between Morten and Einar is set in a café at the outset, then aboard a bus, then back in the café, and so on. The transitions between the two locales are sufficiently smooth that it’s easy not to spot them at first. In another sequence the inconsistency is even subtler. Elin is making a phonecall aboard a bus. The glimpses we catch of the scenery through the window show it sometimes going from right to left, sometimes from left to right.

By now Ingrid is writing her stories about the characters onto her laptop. She changes the narrative on occasion. She “sees” Elin and Einar encounter each other in a supermarket, where Elin strikes up a conversation with the bulky man. With a frown Ingrid revises the scene such that Elin ignores the lurking Einar entirely.

Blind - 4a Elin and Einar fall into conversation in the supermart

Elin (Vera Vital) and Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt) fall into friendly conversation in the supermarket . . .

Blind - 4b or maybe they don't

. . . or maybe they don’t.

Whatever they are doing, Einar and Elin fall asleep whenever Ingrid does. After Morten and Elin have, at least in Ingrid’s imagination, met through an online dating service, Elin falls asleep midway through their first sexual engagement. Ingrid seems less fazed about the sexual betrayal than the fact that the two lovers talk about her pityingly.

Morten is intent on helping Einar with his problem of solitude and the inability to connect with others, especially women. “A large part of Morten’s self-image was about being there for others.” Einar feels that he is as unseen by the rest of the world as the rest of the world is by Ingrid. The only time he can remember being truly happy was in the immediate aftermath of the carnage wreaked in Norway one day in 2011 when fascist Anders Breivik set off a car bomb in Oslo that killed eight people, then went to a youth camp of the Norwegian Labor Party and gunned down scores of youngsters, killing 69 of them. Einar recalls that for the first time people noticed him, spoke to him, even embraced him: all Norwegians were in this disaster together and they shared their existences with each other. “One man’s hate could unite us all in love.” But that mood soon evaporated, and afterwards life got even bleaker for him, because people became suspicious of loners like Einar.

Blind - 5 Morten

Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen), always there, always trying to be understanding.

Ingrid learns she can make Elin go temporarily blind by putting her hands over her own eyes. Then, during the first meeting between Elin and Morten, she decides to make the young woman’s condition a permanent one. More and more, she turns Elin into another version of herself; perhaps that’s what the sex between Elin and Morten is all about; perhaps so is the falling asleep. Toward the end of the movie, people are addressing Elin as Ingrid.

When Ingrid’s not dreaming up these stories, she often imagines that Morten has sneaked home from work or the gym without telling her and is sitting in the apartment silently watching her. There’s a lovely sequence in which she visualizes him sitting in his favorite chair while she pulls an LP off the shelf to play. The LP slips out of its sleeve and Morten catches it. As she gropes around blindly on the floor looking for it, Morten dexterously evades any physical contact between them—pulling his feet away, cringing from her hands, and so on.

The interactions between the reality of Morten and the imagined world of the other two can go on only so long. Eventually there must come a jarring disjunction between the two, leaving Ingrid with a choice to make about the future direction of what’s becoming a novel. The way is paved for some startling revelations. In the final moments of the movie it dawns on us that we may have been wrong about really quite a lot of what we thought was going on.

Petersen portrays Ingrid for the most part as a character having great outer stillness, whatever the self-pitying or malicious or salacious imaginings going on within. She presents a stoic front to the world, her face rarely breaking into a smile and being otherwise austere to the point of grimness. Yet the narrative she’s writing is often, amid its pathos, outrageously funny. “Too ridiculous,” she seems to be telling herself sometimes as she closes her laptop at the end of her latest writing session. Even some of Einar’s hardcore porn is “too ridiculous.” The three harlots whom she imagines Morten and his spivvy business partner Øve Kenneth (Butenschøn) sharing at the office are also “too ridiculous”—outrageous caricatures of hookerdom as if plucked from the Benny Hill Show, complete with the complicated underwear and the pneumatic busts.

But the bawdy humor serves to enhance the pathos with which it’s juxtaposed. There’s a view outside the apartment window that Ingrid cannot see; at one point she strips herself and presses her unclad body against the glass so that, if the world cannot share itself with her, she can share herself with it. It’s a profoundly moving moment even as it shows us there’s a sort of emotive visual poetry that the naked human form can express, a communication quite other than bawdry or eroticism.

Blind - 6aBlind - 6bBlind - 6c Ingrid shares herself with the world

Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), seeking affection, shares herself with a world that she feels cannot share itself with her.

Yet even here there’s an incongruity. Look at the height of the lower edge of the window in the two upper shots, then at its height in the third.

In the same way that Ingrid holds all of her tales together—including her own—so does Petersen’s performance hold the movie together. Of course we’re sympathetic toward Ingrid, have to be, because of her affliction, but Petersen presents her to us as someone who doesn’t really want our sympathy so much as our understanding, someone who wants to be accepted as a human being rather than as “that blind woman.” Which is a good trick to pull off, because at the same time many of the movie’s other nontextual messages are telling us that Ingrid is a different type of being from the rest of us; it seems no coincidence that in one shot the lighting and the impassivity of Ingrid’s face combine to remind us near-subliminally of the face of the fetus at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (Throughout Blind, the lighting and cinematography are impeccable.)

Blind - 7 The bruises of blindness

The bruises of blindness.

Launched at Sundance in 2014, Blind won Eskil Vogt the Screenwriting Award in the World Cinema (Dramatic) category there, and the movie has won or been nominated for a fair number of other accolades, including at the Athens International Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Neuchâtel International Fantasy Film Festival and the Istanbul International Film Festival. Despite all these and more, the award it won in the Village Voice Film Poll is perhaps the most informative, and a sad comment on the US cinema industry: Best Undistributed Film.

In Blind we discover that there’s a psychological condition called amaurophilia: the preference for blind or blindfolded sex partners. I also learned through watching this movie that Norwegians wear their wedding rings on the right hand, not the left.

Blind - closer


On Blind

17 thoughts on “Blind (2014)

  1. Sounds very intriguing, John. I’d never heard of it before, but I suspect it’s the sort of film that might crop up on BBC4 at some point – I shall look out for it! Cheers for the review.

  2. So why do you think it is undistributed? It doesn’t sound ‘ruder’ or ‘worse’ than Crash by David Cronenberg, which was pretty widely available, if controversial.

    • I think almost certainly because it’s an indy movie and was judged to have insufficient commercial appeal. At least it was picked up for DVD.

      Einar’s hardcore porn clips probably didn’t help either, certainly in terms of a general release. Those could have been tinkered with, of course, to fuzz out the relevant areas. I dunno.

  3. I see someone else here beat me to the punch on the wedding ring quip, and right at the outset no less, but I was pretty much riveted with your entire ‘magnifying glass’ account here John. Another film I have not seen, nor have I had the chance as you aptly point out, but in general my past experiences with Norwegian cinema have been quite positive, not to mention the appeal of this particular genre.

    • I found this movie, and especially its central performance, really quite mesmeric. I do hope you get a chance to see it at some stage.

      Like you, I’ve had good experiences with recent Scandi cinema (and TV, for that matter — big fans here of the first Varg Veum series!). I really must make the effort to see more of it.

  4. Pingback: Država (2013) | Noirish

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