90 Minutes (2012)

There isn’t much that can be said about Eva Sørhaug’s remarkable 90 Minutes without ruining its impact. A shockingly powerful film about the final 90 minutes in a person’s life, focusing on domestic abuse, it’s full of difficult subject matter and challenging imagery.

The film is exquisitely shot. With rigorous framing, the tone shifts from almost voyeuristic at the start, to what Sørhaug herself described as “peeping tom” by its conclusion. Shooting through doorways, windows, archways, and so on, she intended to create a sense of looking into a life that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. As if you were peering into your neighbor’s house. Shifting between long and tight shots, she pays close attention to mannerisms, and the little ticks we all have that give away our story.

The film rotates between three separate stories – an older gentleman sorting through his affairs, a troubled ex-husband coping with divorce, and an abusive husband hovering on the edge of oblivion. Their stories are revealed as the film was shot and written, in real time, and in segments. Nothing is spelled out, and so the film unfurls in a manner that doesn’t pander to its audience. Sørhaug intended to trigger emotions, and eventually, by the film’s conclusion, have the audience make its own personal connections to the material in order to effectively raise awareness.

Her inspiration for the subject matter came from simple statistics – that Norway is one of the leaders in gender equality, and a highly feminized society, yet it is also ranked with the highest rate of domestic abuse in all of Europe. Stunned that between 2000 and 2008, 72 women were murdered in their homes in Norway, she created this film as a way to raise awareness that such a struggle exists.

As opposed to simply telling the audience “domestic violence is wrong!”, Sørhaug wanted the abuse to be experienced. Given the dichotomous relationship between the high rate of domestic abuse in Norway, and women’s rights, there have been attempts made to perform studies on the matter. However, given legal issues pertaining to privacy, there’s been little success in obtaining adequate testimonials from victims, and, most notably, murderers and abusers.

Through creating this film she hopes to draw more attention to the male role in Norwegian society. Her intention isn’t to proclaim that men in Norway are particularly villainous and deplorable, but rather to illustrate that Norwegian men are typically socially stunted in relation to the rest of the world. It’s as if they’re stuck in the 1950s, and are simply the providers, while women have progressed to hold more power, and have more rights. Men, she says, have seemingly been left behind.

She acknowledges this not to instigate pity for Norwegian men, but to show just cause for the shifting trends of abuse. Evidently, there are shelters popping up throughout Norway where men can go when they are worried they may slide completely off the edge. In instances of domestic abuse, it’s quite common that the abuser will hover over the line of propriety – they’ll hit their wives, and then strive for normalcy, bridging the gap after the beating when things should be ordinary. These shelters are for men who beat their wives, and are worried they may lose all control and kill them. A sick thought, that this is such a prevalent reality in Norwegian culture that they need a shelter to keep men from accidentally killing their wives because of a lack of control.

The elegance with which the film was shot makes the subject matter all the more haunting, and disturbing. It was too difficult for some audience members, several of them leaving at their particular breaking point. One older gentleman during a particularly shocking scene jumped up exclaiming “fuck this” and stormed out of the theater.

Sørhaug is not naïve enough to think this won’t instigate debate, and animosity – she’d planned on it, and relishes it. Hardly a shit disturber, she wants to spark discussion, and apparently already has amongst officers, law officials, and domestics alike throughout Norway, where the film has not yet premiered. She’s consulted many people on the matter, and hopes that, whether hated or praised, this film gets people discussing a significant and troubling subject that often goes unnoticed.

There’s a drastic difference between difficult subject matter, and grotesquely pointless violence. This is most certainly the former. Staunchly disturbing yet provocative and exquisitely shot, it forces the viewer to see the darkness below the surface. The anger and destruction that lives behind closed doors, and the heartbreaking, disturbing reality that goes unnoticed until it’s too late. Hard to stomach, this is hands down one of the best films I’ve ever seen at the festival, and is so far my favorite of 2012.

This post was originally published on my tumblr on September 9, 2012.