Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hawaii, Oslo. (2004) Erik Poppe

From here on out the trilogy reminds me of an old Terry Taylor phrase: the stories are "a briefing for the ascent." They mesh and intertwine, creating Crash or Magnolia-type intricacies of layers, weaving characters through plot lines that maze into the great beyond. They climb skyward, improving as they ascend, until otherworldly realms are confronted in their final scenes, where conscience, guilt, and redemption collide. Our Norwegian characters will be left carefully considering every future action.

The TV-like production values from Schpaaa are gone and in their wake stand two movies that are a film lover's delight. They're essential viewing for diligent seekers in the art-house crowd, but potent enough for mainstream viewers to get caught up in their ineffable glory.

The maze metaphor extends to physicality in the opening and closing scenes of Hawaii, Oslo. A "God's-eye" view sweeps down over an Oslo intersection where a group of mazed strangers come upon a chance meeting. An ambulance is involved in an accident, apparently on its way to deliver a baby, when a jogger -- more like a sprinter -- bolts out in front of the vehicle. The strangers have already been converging in their differing mazes on the scene as paramedics attempt in all earnestness to aid the run-over victim, but the crash is too severe, and in a heap he breathes his last on the blackened and blood-stained streets. The strangers watch and consider what the accident means to them.

The story backs up to all the witnesses' previous days and the journey of how they arrived at this place at the exact same time. There's no doubt the characters are working out of their own free will -- they're born free in a world made of good and bad choices. However, there's also little doubt that something else is working behind the scenes: angelic guiding figures seem to prompt for the good, while an aura of suspended synchronicity drives events like a guiding force.

That we know the end from the beginning -- (and we really don't, anyway) -- isn't really the point at all. We're brought into lives that are about to converge for a reason; we see all of the hope that this event is going to bring. Those whose lives that will be forever changed at the scene of the crash stand in awe at their inability to help: a mother who long ago abandoned two sons, two sons who are dealing with the loss of their dad, a newborn child that in one day has lost and gained a chance to live, an unbalanced man waiting on a long lost love, an airline stewardess who has completely given up on relationships, a clairvoyant who has already seen all of these events unfold, and a figure that seems to constantly show up whenever someone has need. Everyone has not only something to learn, but something to teach the viewer as well.

There's a film garnering great reviews right now called The World is Big and Salvation Lurks around Every Corner. It feels like it could be the subtitle here. Maybe: Oslo is a Scandinavian city where hardship is reality, but salvation still lurks everywhere... Or something like that. A friend recently pointed out how often the word "saved" is used in Hawaii, Oslo. There are those who need saving, and those, as in real life, who deny they are even in need. We identify with a human longing to be saved. If not "salvation," than certainly sometimes "intervention".

The film suggests that Heaven Can Wait as it hurls us back toward its opening crash. But the "God's-eye" view comes compassionately back, and as in Tykwer's Heaven, we ascend up and out of the scene, until we can barely see characters in the middle of the intersection, until all we can see is the city from high above, until the camera tilts and turns and stares us unquestioningly at the cloudy skies hanging just over Oslo. A golden ray of sunlight is peeking through.

If there ever were a doubt that someone somewhere wasn't guiding us, the question is at this point put to rest. If there were ever a film desiring to relay a graced message, Hawaii, Oslo would probably sit alongside it. Poppe's second film in the trilogy far surpasses any of the missteps of the first, and now we're about to get the roof blown off the joint in the final, gripping trilogy conclusion, which I'll be writing more about tomorrow.

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