Joachim Trier ("Reprise") dives headfirst into nature versus nurture with his captivating fourth feature film, “Thelma,” which screened Thursday night at Fantastic Fest.
Thelma (Eili Harboe) has lived a fairly sheltered life growing up in a very conservative Christian household with her father and disabled mother. Packing up and heading to the big city of Oslo to attend university is something that her parents allow, yet they manage to keep her on a short leash while she's away from home.
Thelma appears to live on campus, but she has her own kitchen and I'm pretty sure you could put two or three of the dorm rooms I ever lived in inside hers. It's a lot of freedom, or at least it should be. After most kids head away to college, their parents are lucky to hear from them even on a weekly basis. Poor Thelma has to be sure to answer her phone each and every day when they call or they will worry something bad has happened to her.
It all seems way too overprotective, or at least it does until Thelma starts to stray from the path her parents have set out for her. Her decision to have a few drinks with her friends or try to smoke marijuana for the first time fills her with extraordinary guilt. So much so that she begins to have violent seizures, which she attempts to keep a secret from her family.
Her developing feelings for another female student named Anja (Okay Kaya) are also something she wants to hide, but they manifest in even stronger ways. The power exuded when she shakes uncontrollably also seems to impact the general vicinity, especially the animals around her. When she finally reveals to her parents that this has been happening, she learns that there is actually a long history of dangerous consequences for others in her path.
Harboe, who also starred in "The Wave," is able to convey complex emotions with a mere glance and is uniformly excellent in a challenging lead role. As the story turns towards the supernatural, her performance guides viewers on a journey that may leave them with more questions than answers.
"Thelma" is Norway's official submission for the best foreign language film category at the 90th Annual Academy Awards. It screens again at Fantastic Fest at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 25. Independent distributor the Orchard, which also released Trier's 2015 "Louder Than Bombs," will open the film in select markets beginning Nov. 10.
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