Brothers (Brødre) – #watchthisspace

In #EIFF, #watchthisspace, Features, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Hannah Oliver

#watchthisspace is for the PTL team’s highlights and viewpoints at EdFilmFest: the ones to watch at this year’s festival, in some short ruminations by the ones who have watched.

Dir. Aslaug Holm (2015)

Showcasing at EIFF on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th June.

Brothers is a reflection on childhood told intimately through the eyes – the lens, rather – of a mother who is also a filmmaker. Perhaps the true subject of this Norwegian film is the passage of time, which is measured on the barometer of her two young sons as they grow rapidly before us. Within the first five minutes Holm manages to compress time into a dizzying rate of frames per second, as she bequeaths us glimpses of her sons, Markus and Lucas, at various stages over a decade. Yet the film, whilst full of the intoxicating joie de vivre that comes with stereotypes of childhood, holds a rendering of the brothers’ day-to-day existence that is also complex and languid and full of life’s existential questions. ‘How big is a thought? … Bigger even than me?’ a very young Lucas queries, as clouds and the abandoned, collapsing house of Holm’s grandmother half-buried on the Norwegian coastline, roll across screen. The timbre of his voice and the way he wraps his cherubic toddler’s cheeks around words unfamiliar to them, is at odds with his unwitting poetry.

Meanwhile Holm never removes herself from the picture, though, aside from sparing self-portraits over the years, she is rarely in the frame. Her boys’ adventures, from days at school to football practice to holidays on the island of Smøla where Holm’s family whale hunted for generations, are interposed with her own evolving thoughts on motherhood: ‘I thought if we raised you well, you would be good people. But you were born complete, and you are trying to find your place in the world.’ In this sense she has a poetry of her own, which takes the form of her imagery too as she captures in minute detail the rawness of the Norwegian fjords, the unpopulated moments of their quotidian life in Oslo, and the intimate youth of her two beautiful sons. They certainly seem to have been born complete; Markus is ardent and conscientious, one of his defining characteristics in the film is a deeply touching care for his younger brother. Lucas is, comparatively, cheeky and wild: early in the timeline of the film project and his first decade, he storms through some long grass and his mother follows asking, as she is warrant to, ‘what is your greatest dream?’ Unprovoked, abrupt, he replies, ‘revenge.’ When asked revenge upon whom, he says the world, and the screen cuts to childish drawings of devils and fire. Yet, Lucas is no devil child by any means of the word, he is sweet and shy and, in this way, the nature of the film as a distinctly unnatural narrative construct at the hand of the filmmaker rises to the forefront of the audience’s consciousness. Although the film falls under the category of documentary, to construe Brothers as solely this, without acknowledging its masterful digression into artificial storytelling and heightened aesthetic, would be incredibly reductive – just as it would be to construe Lucas’ comments as more than a harmless stage of increasing self-awareness and idiosyncrasy.

However, at times the investment of the film in the reality of its subjects feels costly. In order to capture the scenes of Marcus’ and Lucas’ lives, Holm had to be outside of them herself, and she maintains the distance of a documentary filmmaker, melding into the background and often declining to engage. Lucas falls on a frozen lake and contorts in pain, and Holm films. Marcus, suddenly a teenager half a foot taller with a face that has almost finished itself, looks at the mother behind the camera and demands that she find an ending for her film, declaring her neurotic and obsessed – and Holm films. Yet considering the thematic undercurrent of the project is time, growth, experience, motherhood, none of which ever end, how does one find an ending? Brothers is a film about the quiet moments and the everyday, not life’s seismic events, and confounds the sense of progression and linearity we make a habit of ascribing to long-term reality.

So Holm succeeds in creating a visually stunning and existentially profound film, whose very achievement lies in its distinct lack of linearity; of beginning, middle and end. At times heavy in subject, but never heavy going, you will certainly leave the cinema lighter of heart.

Hannah Oliver

Hannah O is the Editor of FILM, THEATRE & TV at PTL. She really likes camera equipment, long words, and anything she can deep fat fry. Do not approach Hannah when she is eating fried food in the early hours; she will be drunk and convinced she knows everything. Elsewise, these days she may be found in Edinburgh University Library with her head in a book – probably Facebook.

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