Two interesting movies about love and loss are coming to D.C. this weekend.
The first is “Thelma,” a gripping Norwegian drama that is both irresistible and rather hard to describe. It’s a rich coming-of-age/coming-out story that combines the sensibilities of Stephen King and Ingmar Bergman. It mixes moments of psychological realism with moments of horror and surreal fantasy while it tackles issues of sexuality, religion, science and family. The shifting moods are deftly captured by the crisp camerawork of Jakob Ihre and the haunting score by Ola Fløttum.
The title character (the first-rate Eili Harboe) has been raised in a small town by her over-protective and deeply religious parents. Against their wishes, she decides to study biology at a university in Oslo. She is attracted to the beautiful Anja (Kaya Wilkins), but as their relationship deepens, Thelma is subject to increasingly intense seizures. Her concerned father Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) reveals that her seizures are linked to dangerous supernatural abilities that have haunted the family for generations.
The acting is superb throughout. Harboe is excellent as the timid, lonely Thelma, torn between her faith and her interest in science, confused by her intense desire for Anja and terrified by her seizures and her emerging powers. Rafaelsen is also first-rate as the frightened father, slowly reveling the fear and concern beneath his stony exterior. Wilkins and Ellen Dorrit Petersen as Thelma’s mother Unni turn in strong performances as women whose lives are transformed by Thelma’s powers.
The script by director Joachim Trier and his frequent writing partner Eskil Vogt is exceptional, full of interesting twists and unexpected revelations. It slowly builds to a fascinating finale that is both horrific and tender. It’s no surprise that “Thelma” is Norway’s official selection for Best Foreign Language Film Consideration at the 90th Academy Awards.
In Norwegian with English subtitles, “Thelma” opens at the West End Cinema on Dec. 1.
This year, Reel Affirmations will observe World AIDS Day with a screening of “After Louie,” a powerful drama about the ongoing impact of the AIDS crisis.
The movie stars award-winning actor and author Alan Cumming (“The Smurfs,” TV’s “The Good Wife,” “Cabaret” on Broadway) as Sam Cooper, an activist and artist is paralyzed by survivor’s guilt. As the film opens, Sam is obsessively editing an art film about his friend William Wilson who died of AIDS in 1999. He smokes and drinks too much and picks up hustlers to avoid intimacy.
Sam is also filled with impotent fury: at himself, at the gallery owner who drops him, at his friends for their complacency (he launches into an anti-marriage diatribe when he discovers that two friends have been wed at City Hall) and especially at the younger generation of gay men who seem to be politically indifferent and to have no awareness of the history of AIDS.
Things begin to change when he picks up Braeden (Zachary Booth). A mutual attraction grows between the two men and both find themselves reenergized by their arguments about love, sex and politics.
Cumming is superb as the frustrated artist and he’s surrounded by a great cast. Booth and Anthony Johnston (who co-wrote the script with director Vincent Gagliostro) bring the younger generation to vivid life as they fine-tune their “open relationship.” Wilson Cruz is strong as Mateo who calls Sam on his outdated racial and sexual politics and Patrick Breen is moving as Mateo’s husband Jeffrey who is fiercely guarding his own memories of Wilson.
Despite some flaws (slack pacing and a rather restricted focus on the white middle-class gay community), “After Louie” will undoubtedly spur some great discussions about the ongoing impact of AIDS.
“After Louie” will be presented at the HRC screening room (1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.) on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m.