An arresting and novel coming-of-age tale, “Cross My Heart and Hope to Die” is yet another intelligent, entertaining youth drama from Norway. As with other recent Norse efforts, including”Otto” and “Frieda — Straight From the Heart,” current offering plays more upscale than mainstream, limiting offshore commercial prospects, although it was the biggest domestically produced hit of 1994 in its native land.
There is no denying the quality of the film, and should this long shot repping Norway at the Oscars get onto the final foreign-language ballot, its playability quotient would quickly brighten as a specialized release in a few sophisticated territories.
Focus of the tale is Otto Olsen (Martin Dahl Garfalk), an awkward young teen back in the ’60s. He’s literally the 12th man on the soccer team. His quiet exterior belies his true nature, which comes to the fore when a mysterious older lad (Jan Kornstad) goads him into throwing a rock at the referee during a game.
Marius Holst, who directed and co-wrote, is unsparing in this dark vision of life among the working class. Otto and his parents reside in a modest apartment block, and the eccentric edge with which Holst imbues the people who live there is made more palatable when seen from the naive youth’s perspective.
Rife with incident rather than plot, “Cross My Heart” dishes out comedy and tragedy with equal relish. It’s unnerving to watch but never boring. And the effective glue is the odd, slow-to-coalesce relationship between two very different boys.
Holst has assembled a first-rate cast, including, in a haunting cameo, vet Per Oscarsson as a ghoulish piano tuner. Garfalk is perhaps used too much as a cipher, but Kornstad has a brooding, riveting charm rare in someone so young.