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90 Minutes

Original title: 90 minutter

D: Eva Sørhaug / 89m

Cast: Bjørn Floberg, Mads Ousdal, Pia Tjelta, Aksel Hennie, Annmari Kastrup, Kaia Varjord

Johan (Floberg) has reached a point in his life where he’s made a profound decision as to his immediate future. He’s determined to put several aspects of his life behind him, such as the room he rents and a subscription he’s taken out. As he makes these changes, he’s goes about them with a sense of finality and sadness. Fred (Ousdal) is a cop who’s marriage to Elin (Tjelta) has ended in divorce. They have two young children, both girls, and Fred’s presence in their home while Elin plans a party is being tolerated by his ex-wife. When she takes a call from someone who is coming to the party and is currently playing golf, Fred assumes the man is the new love in her life, something that he isn’t happy about. Trond (Hennie) is a young man who appears to be living alone in a sparsely furnished apartment. He listens to the radio and tapes up his right hand but otherwise seems unmotivated. He goes into his bedroom, where he strips and has sex with a woman (Varjord) who is gagged and tied to the bed. Also in the room is a baby, which starts crying.

Johan arrives back home from a trip out. His wife, Hanna (Kastrup), is there. He begins to prepare dinner for them while Hanna has a shower. He is methodical and precise and makes sure that everything is just so. Fred begins to antagonise Elin by refusing to leave when she asks him to, and by complaining that she never seemed interested in golf before. He also finds excuses to remain there that involve either their children, or a neighbour. Elin loses her patience and insists that he leave. He eventually does so, and drives off angrily. Trond releases the woman tied to his bed to see to the baby. She is his partner, Karianne, and the baby is theirs. With the baby seen to, she begins to cook for them both, but when she looks out of the window, Trond becomes angry and attacks her. He drags her back into the bedroom and reties her to the bed. He snorts some cocaine, then arranges to meet a friend in order to get some more.

During their dinner, Johan prepares some gravy that he lets his wife try first. She becomes woozy and soon passes out. Fred drives around until he ends up back at his old home. He gets out of his car and goes inside to confront his family. Trond is visited by his friend and another man, who assault him and take his TV as repayment for his drug debts. Angry at being humiliated he decides to take it out on Karianne. He forces her to have sex and in the process nearly suffocates her, but stops just short of doing so. All three men find themselves on the verge of having their lives changed forever.

90 Minutes - scene

Only the second feature by talented director Sørhaug after Cold Lunch (2008), 90 Minutes is a bleak, uncompromising slice of Norwegian angst that gives the barest amount of detail for each man’s behaviour, and is coldly judgmental when it comes to the outcomes of each story. We meet each man at a stage where their individual journeys have reached a point of no return (though Trond’s is a little less cut and dried).

Johan’s actions are calculated and, in their own way, heartless and cruel. There may be an element of love involved in his actions toward Hanna, but the absence of any concrete reason for his actions doesn’t allow for any sympathy from the viewer. It’s clear he does have a reason for doing what he’s doing but Sørhaug is clever enough to make that reason irrelevant; his sadness tells us enough, and as we watch Johan carry out his plan, the sense of foreboding that builds is carefully orchestrated to the point where inevitability and hope collide, leaving a melancholy chill over the storyline that is quietly and unquestionably effective. Floberg is subdued, almost absent throughout, his careworn face providing all the information we need as to what he’s feeling. Of the three men he’s the most restrained and the most agonised, and Floberg gives perhaps the best performance as a result.

Fred is a man with unresolved marital issues and a simmering layer of anger lurking beneath an outwardly pleasant façade. Of the three men he’s the most recognisable and understandable, his jealous possessiveness a staple of marital dramas the world over. Sadly, this very familiarity stops Sørhaug from making his and Elin’s storyline from being anything more than entirely predictable, and his return to their home has all the surprise of presents at Xmas, especially after we learn he’s “taking a break” from active duty as a cop and is behind a desk. Nevertheless, Ousdal steers clear of making Fred too obvious, and makes his face almost mask-like when around other people. It’s only when he’s in his car that we see the full range of the emotions he’s feeling and realise just where those emotions will take him. As a transformation it’s unnerving and unexpectedly affecting.

As for Trond, he’s perhaps the most tormented of the three, his drug dependency exacerbating his paranoia and abusive behaviour towards Karianne. He’s an ogre, pitiless and self-absorbed, a rapist whose abusive nature has robbed him of every last ounce of decency. His actions are abominable, and it’s a measure of Sørhaug’s script, and Hennie’s abilities as an actor, that Trond isn’t allowed even the faintest hint of understanding or redemption; he’s unlikeable all the way through. Of the three storylines, Trond’s is the most difficult to watch, with its moments of domestic violence and sexual assault, and Sørhaug (again) is clever enough to thwart the audience’s expectations. The ultimate fate of Trond and Karianne and the baby is one that allows the movie to end on a note of cautious hope, but a note that nevertheless comes without any guarantees.

90 Minutes is a hard movie to like as such, its unremittingly grim mise en scene and examination of extreme misogynistic behaviour making it tough to engage with. But Fred’s story aside, Sørhaug’s script is still intrepid enough to make the other two storylines surprisingly engrossing. She also makes the camera more of an observer than a participant, allowing a more dispassionate approach to the material that offsets the horrors being witnessed. Henrik Skram’s icy score adds another dimension to the austere proceedings, and there’s sterling camera work from Harald Gunnar Paalgard, particularly in Trond’s apartment.

Rating: 7/10 – by making Johan, Fred and Trond so unsympathetic, writer/director Sørhaug runs the risk of making 90 Minutes too unpalatable for the average viewer, but there’s enough to admire in the stringent, uncompromising set ups to make up for any distaste at the characters’ actions; one that will linger in the memory and with a cathartic moment that remains appropriately unsatisfying.

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