A selfish youth's thoughtless act creates unexpected consequences for several of his Oslo neighbors in this mannered multistrand drama.

A selfish youth’s thoughtless act creates unexpected consequences for several of his Oslo neighbors in the mannered multistrand drama “Cold Lunch.” Script by Per Schreiner (“The Bothersome Man”) offers another ironic, sometimes horrific (including shades of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”) sendup of modern Norwegian society, but as it plays out in director Eva Sorhaug’s coolly dispassionate, visually striking debut, “Lunch” doesn’t amount to a completely satisfying meal. Although more admirable than likable, pic does signal Sorhaug as a talent to watch. Further fest play is a given; orders from arthouse distribs with specialized taste are possible.

An audacious opening-credits sequence, labeled “Prologue,” establishes the narrative’s peculiar tone and distinctive visual style. After striking a pedestrian with his car (an event heard rather than seen), driver Marius (Nicolai Cleve Broch) tries to blackmail his passenger, Turid (Birgitte Victoria Svendsen), into taking the rap, both blithely ignoring the fallen body in the background. Bright, airy production design and upbeat music at scene’s end create a perverse incongruity with the behavior on display.

Subsequent chapters (each archly titled) repeat this formula, but the episodic story arcs of the individual (not particularly sympathetic) characters never add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Marius and Turid are merely the first of the film’s self-centered males and victimized females. Ensemble includes petulant Christer (Aksel Hennie, in an uncharacteristic role), who sets the plot’s wheels in motion when he cuts the power to an apartment building; sheltered Leni (fiercely concentrated Ane Dahl Torp), whose father dies as a result of the power cut; and overly solicitous young mother Heidi (sexy Pia Tjelta), whose odious husband, Odd (Kurre Sydness), mentally and physically abuses her.

Top Norwegian thesps deliver intense perfs that rely a tad too heavily on a singular trait (Hennie’s tossing and smoothing his hair, Torp’s apprehensive stare, Tjelta’s masochism). Use of seagulls, from comical to increasingly sinister, is also worthy of note.

Gliding from medium shots to closeups and back again, precise widescreen lensing by John Andreas Andersen leads the good-looking tech package.

Cold Lunch

Norway

Production

A 4½ production. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Executive producers, Marius Holst, Karin Julsrud, Aagot Skjeldal, Pal Sletaune, Turid Oversveen, Hakon Overas. Produced by Hakon Overas, Aagot Skjeldal. Directed by Eva Sorhaug. Screenplay, Per Schreiner.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), John Andreas Andersen; editors, Wibecke Ronseth, Sophie Hesselberg; music, Bugge Wesseltoft; production designer, Siri Langdalen; costume designer, Karen Fabritius Gramm; sound (Dolby SRD), Tormod Ringnes. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Aug. 27, 2008. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Aksel Hennie, Ane Dahl Torp, Pia Tjelta, Kurre Sydness, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Bjorn Floberg, Anneke von der Lippe, Birgitte Victoria Svendsen.
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