Original title: Lønsj
D: Eva Sørhaug / 90m
Cast: Ane Dahl Torp, Pia Tjelta, Aksel Hennie, Bjørn Floberg, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Anneke von der Lippe, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, Birgitte Victoria Svendson, Ingar Helge Gimle, Jan Gunnar Røise
A Norwegian drama focusing on the lives of five people who all live and (mostly) work in the same small section of Oslo, Cold Lunch introduces us to Leni (Torp), a forty-something woman who has spent the majority of her life in an apartment with her father; Christer (Hennie), a young man who can’t pay his rent; Heidi (Tjelta), a young mother whose husband, Odd (Sydness) is controlling and abusive; Turid (Svendson), a fifty-something woman who does her best to live an active, fulfilling lifestyle; and Kildahl (Floberg), whose disabled wife hates and despises him. When Christer leaves for work one morning and he gets bird poo on his clothes, the “accident” sets in motion a chain reaction that brings these characters into each other’s orbits.
Using the washing machine of the building next door to his, Christer realises his money is in the pocket of his waistcoat. Unable to open the washing machine, he finds the fuse box and pulls out the main fuse. As he retrieves his money, Kildahl appears and challenges Christer, who promptly leaves (without apologising for causing everyone in the building an inconvenience). Upstairs, Leni’s father has been killed as he attempts to restore power to his flat using his own fuse box. Leni sees his body but does nothing; eventually Kildahl and an electrician visit the flat and find the old man. In another apartment, Heidi is looking after her infant son. With the power having been cut off, some of her husband’s clothes aren’t washed or ironed; he gets angry and when Heidi pleads for his understanding, Odd slaps her across the face before leaving. Nearby, Christer quits his job because the store owner he works for won’t lend him the money he needs to pay his rent. Odd works for a property management company; he finds Leni at the flat and informs her that her father’s contract for the flat ended when he died, and she must leave within the next two days. Later, Kildahl is having dinner with his wife; angry with him and her condition she urinates while sitting at the dinner table.
Over the next couple of days, their lives intersect and new bonds are forged, while others are strengthened (or made to endure), and one is curtailed almost as soon as it’s begun, and one more remains unchanged. Leni learns how to cope in the outside world, Christer gets an offer to join a small crew taking a boat to the Caribbean, Heidi tries her best to become a better partner to Odd, and mother to their son (with terrible consequences), and Kildahl and Turid both take each day as it comes in the hope that their lives will improve in some way, however small.
The writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. And so it is with Cold Lunch, its characters seeking ways out of their individual predicaments, and not knowing how to find them. It’s a bleak, unforgiving kind of movie, intent on showing what can happen when we all have a bad day, and the repercussions that, often, we’re not even aware of. Happiness, the movie seems to say, is fleeting, and by no means guaranteed, even if you work hard for it, or deserve it. By chance, Leni finds a job but she is still all alone in the world – a scene in a cafe sees her nodding in acknowledgement to a woman at the next table. When she does it again, the woman is unimpressed and turns away. Unable to connect with the world around her on a meaningful level, Leni (who appears to be the movie’s one “success” story) will always turn inward for comfort and peace of mind.
Likewise, Christer and Heidi find it difficult to connect with others. Christer is almost entirely dependent on the people around him but he has a fundamental distrust of everyone. He has a moment of self-awareness that seems to bring about a kind of personal salvation, but how long it will last is uncertain. Heidi’s life is even more wretched, her proclivity for self-denial dictating her behaviour at every turn. She too has a moment of self-awareness (mixed with a burst of self-confidence), but it’s fleeting and she renounces any chance of changing her life almost straight away. Her future is the bleakest, and has a grim inevitability. The same can be said for Kildahl, his relationship with his wife entirely one-sided, his attitude toward her more as a parent with a disabled child than as a husband to his wife. They are both locked in a loveless marriage of co-dependency, and as both are middle-aged, they will continue to make each other miserable for some time to come. And Turid, whose life, at least, is governed by principles, doesn’t realise just how these principles will continue to keep her alone.
From all this it could be assumed that Cold Lunch is a dark, depressing movie, but despite its subject matter, it’s an oddly positive movie that makes you root for the characters even when you know there’s very little hope for them. Per Schreiner’s script also has quirky moments of dry humour and unexpected levity amongst all the gloom. There are good performances all round – Torp and Hennie are particularly effective – and the photography by John Andreas Andersen is understated while also emphasising the bright, airy rooms and outdoor spaces the characters inhabit (which reinforce how alone they are). Making her feature debut, director Sørhaug shows sound judgment in her approach to the material and alleviates the doom and gloom with carefully constructed moments of hope, along with the aforementioned levity. At times, she walks a bit of a tightrope in getting the balance right, and there are moments when the movie stumbles under the weight of its ambition – an homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds is clumsily done, and leads to an accident that no one responds to in anything resembling an appropriate manner – but all in all, Cold Lunch is quirky, and oddly affirmative despite its characters trials and tribulations.
Rating: 8/10 – darkly humorous at times, and in a way that only the Scandinavians can pull off, Cold Lunch is not for everyone; too downbeat for its own good at times, it’s nevertheless a movie well worth seeking out and rewards on closer inspection.