A mother abducts her own children charter, a fascinating watch from writer-director Amanda Kernell (Sami blood). Norwegian actress Ane Dahl Torp performs a tour de force as Alice, the desperate and brash divorcee who decides to take her daughter and son to Tenerife in the midst of a bitter custody battle. The courts seem poised to favor their father Mattias (Sverrir Gudnason), with whom they currently live in Sweden. Alice catches them out of school and on a plane to the Canary Islands, where they try to spend a vacation before the police get close.
While there is a lot of tension in the basic setup of Sweden’s submission for the Oscar category of International Feature Film, the intrigue is added by the mysteries of Alice’s character. She’s a fascinating person to decode: unpredictable, playful, with principles about some things and not others. Her driving force is her love for her children, but she refuses to stay in an unhappy marriage for them – a move that has sparked obvious disapproval from everyone in the small town they come from.
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Her husband is unlikely to have elicited the same reaction, and it explores the double standard of a society that harshly judges mothers for wanting to have a life. “You have a brain like that of a four-year-old,” Mattias says at one point, and it’s not the only time there is a hint of gender-based emotional abuse. Alice also suspects that he was physically abusive with their children. And yet, thanks to Kernell for not demonizing Mattias: he’s a round character who – like Alice – makes good choices as well as bad ones. There are no clear winners in this fight; no easy answers, and it is stimulating to reflect on this during charter, whose rhythm gives us time to think.
That Kernell achieves this in the context of a gripping thriller is impressive, and she also finds time for some moving scenes of parent-child bonding. One of the most memorable takes place in a karaoke bar, where Alice hangs out Elina (Tintin Poggats Sarri) and Vincent (Troy Lundkvist). Taking the microphone to sing Meat Loaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love,” Alice waves her children on stage. Still confused and conflicted about the “vacation,” they resist at first, but gradually mellow and join her. Alice’s relief and joy is palpable, and the uplifting scene marks a turning point in her relationship with her children.
The two young actors have had some terrific turns, with Poggats Sarri perfect as a shy and troubled teenager who refuses to talk to her mother about her eating disorder, but has yet to be responsible for their relationship. Every nuance of their interactions is engaging, making them an emotional, bittersweet watch as well as a hard-hitting thriller and strong Oscar entry.
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Line of International Critics