A slap in the face to Norwegian propriety and so-called “civilized” societies in general, Eva Sorhaug’s “90 Minutes” will certainly be seen as a response to the two anti-government attacks on July 22, 2011, which killed 77 people in different parts of Norway. But it goes beyond the merely topical to a place where storytelling is deconstructed, presumptions are demolished and movie violence is remolded into a blunt instrument. Sales will be tough, but Sorhaug’s technique is so assured, and her use of the frame so subtle and precise, that a Stateside arthouse release, at the least, seems certain.
Comparisons have been made between the darkness of Sorhaug’s work and that of Michael Haneke, but Gaspar Noe comes more readily to mind, especially during certain graphic moments in what can safely be called a triptych of terror. In no particular order, and in alternating takes, the film reveals three separate stories linked by a male rage that ranges from the crazy to the frighteningly controlled.
In the first chapter, a well-dressed and obviously affluent gentleman (Bjorn Floberg), goes about tidying up the affairs of his life, canceling the newspaper and giving away his pet bird. At a suburban house, in a neighborhood full of children, a divorced policeman (Mads Ousdal ) exercises his weekly visitation, seeing his kids and sniping at his ex (Pia Tjelta). Deeper into the city, in an apartment of stark white walls, packing boxes and an enormous flat screen TV, a cokehead named Trond (Aksel Hennie) keeps his bruised wife, Karianne (Kaia Varjord), tied to the bed, except when she needs to get up and breastfeed their newborn.
Sorhaug makes her aud do a mental scramble in search of clues to what’s motivating the inhabitants of her movie — the male inhabitants, at any rate — until the viewer’s realization that it doesn’t matter. The violence being perpetrated, whether in the oak-lined dining room of a well-to-do middle-aged couple,or a junkie’s furniture-free apartment, has no justification, although it’s significant that even Trond’s place, were he rapes his wife in between servings of cocaine, is clean, well constructed and very Scandinavian.
The few acts of gruesome violence occupy very little screen time. Most of “90 Minutes,” which chronicles the last hour and a half in three of the characters’ lives, is devoted to creating mood and character, via the very elegant, angular lensing of Harald Gunnar Paalgard, and Sorhaug’s script, which doles out less information than do the faces of her actors. It’s certainly a film with a feminist perspective: In one section, the wife’s face is never seen at all. In all three stories, it’s the male character’s loss of control, and internal justification for his acts, that constitutes evil.
Production values are excellent, notably the soundwork of Kenneth Gustavsen, Bent Erik Holm and Erik S. Watland, which gives the film a palpable tension.