Toronto International Film Festival 2011: ‘Sons of Norway’


Director: Jens Lien

Cast: Åsmund Høeg, Sven Nordin, Sonja Richter, Tony Veisle Skarpsmo, John Lydon

Country: Norway

At the public screening for this Norwegian coming of age tale, former Sex Pistol and co-star Johnny Rotten was asked to introduce the film. “You’ll really like it,” he declared. “And if you don’t, you’re fucking cunts.” Well. Glad I liked it, I guess. Sons of Norway, mockingly named after a Norwegian cultural heritage preservation society, tells the story of the role punk music and culture influenced a young boy on the cusp of his adolescence in 1978.

Opening in a quiet, sleepy housing project at Christmastime, we are introduced to a quirky family of left-leaning intellectuals who have gathered for a decidedly secular celebration on this religious day. The great bearded hippie father, Magnus, has filled the house with bananas to signify man’s connection to his ancestors (apes). The guests discuss the finer points of communism in the political scene while the children form an earnest anti-patriarchy protest which the father gleefully joins (to their annoyance). And all of this while everyone lingers over a traditional turkey that is the earthy mother’s favourite childhood food.

This thematic braid comprised of traditionalism, intellectualism, politics, rebellion, imitation and co-optation runs through the rest of this charming film, though Sons of Norway rarely achieves the grandeur of this opening sequence. Following a tragic turn which rips the family apart, the teenage boy Nikolaj affects the punk clothes and attitudes he has seen on his record sleeves, and joins a band. To his initial dismay, his father loves this decision, seeing no great disjuncture between his own cultural rebellions — he is a free-love earth-worshipping nudist, for example — and those of his son.

The connections here — generational, cultural — between the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s and the punks of the ’70s and ’80s have rarely been so cleverly and insightfully drawn. Although a distracting cameo from Johnny Rotten in the late going breaks the spell, much of the film works on a level of utter charm and nostalgic reverie. The bravura section at a nudist camp — where Nikolaj refuses to doff his Union Jack-emblazoned shorts while surrounded by hundreds of hippies in the raw — is as fun a sequence as I have seen this week.

RATING 7 / 10