Maria Sodahl’s confident debut feature, “Limbo,” charts a Norwegian woman’s emotional breakdown after she discovers her husband has been unfaithful in 1970s Trinidad. Slickly mounted effort avoids soapiness, yet the script’s mix of culture clash and marital strife never quite develops into the truly engrossing drama intended. Pic is likely to earn just limited theatrical travel outside Scandinavia (it opens in Norway Sept. 10), with disc and broadcast sales spreading wider. Sodahl shared the Montreal fest’s director kudos with Pascal Elbe (“Tete de Turc”).
Sonia (Line Verndal) and her two young children are finally joining spouse Jo (Henrik Rafaelsen) in Trinidad, where he’s already been stationed for a year as a contractee for a multinational oil company. It’s not just the tropical setting or the pervasive heat that unmoors her; given a local servant who insists on doing all household chores, Sonia has little choice but to join other idle foreign wives like jaded Swede Charlotte (Lena Endre) in their mildly decadent, latter-day colonialist lifestyle of endless cocktail hours and gossip.
Delivering something to Jo at his office one day, Sonia is accosted by his comely co-worker Lorraine (Catherine Emmanuel), who not only reveals her affair with Jo, but tells Sonia to return north because, “He’s mine.”
Accused, Jo admits his transgression but insists the dalliance is over (Lorraine, too, is married after all). Nevertheless, Sonia gradually comes undone, drinking to excess, neglecting the kids and lashing out at her earnestly apologetic mate. Meanwhile, middle-aged, childless Charlotte has had enough of relocating around the globe every few years with her own husband, Jo’s colleague Daniel (a rather wasted Bryan Brown). Alas, Daniel’s work contract here is almost up, and they may be forced to uproot themselves yet again.
Verndal’s wide-eyed performance doesn’t really help fill in the script’s blanks as to why this seemingly self-reliant modern woman would fall apart so completely over several months due to one significant but survivable marital hiccup. As a result, the protagonist grows steadily less sympathetic without gaining discernible complexity. Pic’s climactic tragedy also feels somewhat undermotivated, and it was a tactical mistake to simply drop Sonia’s rival Lorraine from the narrative early on. Endre, meanwhile, delivers a fine portrayal of a softer-centered Mrs. Robinson type.
Glossily mounted effort is smooth in all tech/design departments. Still, more care could have been taken to evoke the mid-’70s, perhaps including an explanation of the Trinidadian politics around the oil industry at the time.