A man finds he's incapable of looking after his son following his wife's sudden death in "Together,"

A man finds he’s incapable of looking after his son following his wife’s sudden death in “Together,” Matias Armand Jordal’s predictable debut, designed to milk the maximum pain from its unappealing protag and its audience. Though the pic’s setup is unquestionably heart-rending, Jordal chooses to rub viewers’ faces in the grief, setting his characters on metaphorical rough seas and refusing to throw them so much as a life jacket. Fests have been drawn in, but local B.O. following a late January opening scored a mere $134,000 after eight weeks.

Given the manipulative nature of the story, it’s not surprising the pic performed so poorly at home. Roger (Fridtjov Saheim) is the kind of guy who never admits he’s wrong; his wife, Kristine (Evy Kasseth Rosten), on the other hand, is all sweetness and light — so much so it’s impossible to believe she’d be happy with this schmuck. The first 10 minutes cram in as many sympathetic vibes as possible between Kristine and 12-year-old son Pal (Odin Waage), making certain her sudden death in a car accident (while arguing with Roger) proves sufficiently affecting.

From the start, it’s clear Roger is spectacularly ill-equipped to cope with his anguish and take on the responsibility of single parenthood. He becomes so mired in depression that he goes to emergency child services and asks them to take Pal off his hands for a while, though of course he doesn’t tell his son. When the suffocatingly sympathetic ladies (Kristine Rui Slettebakken, Marianne Mork Larsen) from child welfare come to pick Pal up at a Chinese restaurant and take him away, the boy is all the more bewildered, incapable of understanding why his father is pushing him out.

The scene at the restaurant beggars belief, as does a subsequent one of the self-pitying Roger in a brothel; more problematic still, they’re obviously written to maximize viewer discomfort. Oddly, Roger and Pal appear to live in a vacuum, devoid of family, neighbors or friends, though it’s difficult to imagine that Kristine had no friends.

Young thesp Waage is sympathetic and does a fine job with the material he’s given. Saheim (“The Art of Negative Thinking”) certainly throws himself into the role, but it’s a thankless task. D.p. Odd Reinhardt Nicolaysen (“Kissed by Winter”) uses the contempo Scandi style, almost de rigueur now for dysfunctional family dramas, all handheld camerawork with constantly shifting, slight movements to rep instability and intimacy.

Together

Norway

Production

A Mirmar Film Prod. production. (International sales: Svensk Filmindustri, Stockholm.) Produced by Tom Rysstad. Directed, written by Matias Armand Jordal.

Crew

Camera (color), Odd Reinhardt Nicolaysen; editor, Mattias Morheden; music, Johan Soderqvist; production designer; Tuva Holmebakk; costume designer, Ellen Ystehede; sound (Dolby SRD), Tormod Ringnes; line producer, Odd Ween. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi New Directors), Sept. 21, 2009. (Also in Reykjavik Film Festival -- New Visions; Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Fridtjov Saheim, Odin Waage, Evy Kasseth Rosten, Kristine Rui Slettebakken, Marianne Mork Larsen, Torbjorn Eriksen.
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