“It’s not important what’s real as long as I can visualize it,” notes the narrator heroine early on in “Blind,” aptly setting the stage for a lithe, quicksilver portrait of a woman whose loss of sight only serves to sharpen her creative imagination. As much a film about writing and loneliness as about blindness, this standout debut feature for screenwriter Eskil Vogt retains many of the literate, self-reflexive touches Vogt brought to his collaborations with helmer Joachim Trier (chiefly “Reprise”) while finding its own alternately droll, sexy, heartbreaking rhythms. The result should go far on the fest circuit following premiere berths at Sundance and Berlin, where it is sure to draw the attention of discerning arthouse distribs.
“Blind” serves, among other things, as a revelatory showcase for actress Ellen Dorrit Petersen (“Troubled Water”), whose Ingrid has already been gone blind when we first meet her, and inside whose head much of the movie unfolds. Having lost her sight abruptly to an undiagnosed genetic condition, the former schoolteacher now whiles away her days at home in a high-rise apartment she rarely leaves, even in the company of her architect husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen) — who, she believes, sometimes sneaks back in when he’s supposed to be at work and voyeuristically spies on her. And maybe he does, for so fluid is the line between objective and subjective reality in “Blind” that it is all but impossible to say whether certain events depicted onscreen “really” happen or not.
In its opening sections, the movie plays as a kind of sensory procedural, showing us the world as “seen” through sightless eyes, with Vogt making deft use of closeups and exaggerated sound effects to approximate Ingrid’s sense of disorientation. Making a cup of tea becomes a protracted suspense setpiece; a simple kitchen spill turns into an agonizing defeat. But even here, Vogt manages to bring a wry sense of humor to bear, especially in his depiction of Ingrid’s interactions with her voice-assisted microwave oven, cell phone, and a wand that announces the color of any object against which it is pressed.
Subtly at first (an ever-present laptop perched on a windowsill), then more obviously, Vogt introduces the suggestion that Ingrid spends much of her time writing, creating a fictional narrative that allows her to see in her mind what she can no longer see with her eyes. At the center of Ingrid’s story is Elin (Vera Vitali), a single mother newly relocated to Oslo from Sweden, who becomes an object of affection for Einar (the wonderful Marius Kolbenstvedt), a shy shut-in whose appetite for Internet porn rivals matches or exceeds that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in last year’s “Don Jon” (complete with a similarly explicit onscreen montage), and who spies on Elin from his apartment across the street. Then, just when “Blind” seems to have established its ground rules, Ingrid writes her real-life husband, Morten, into her fiction as a rival for Elin’s hand, and Vogt’s film leapfrogs to a new level of meta-playfulness.
As in “Reprise,” which charted the loves and losses of two friends intent on becoming lit-world phenoms, Vogt here once again shows a deep-set fascination with the creative processes of writers, and how writing can serve alternately as a means of escape, vicarious experience, catharsis and self-discovery. And as Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman did in “Adaptation” (which “Blind” also echoes), Vogt finds ingeniously cinematic ways of visualizing a writer’s fickle temperament, with sets and locations — even the gender of one character — that change onscreen as they evolve in Ingrid’s mind. Though ostensibly literary alter egos, or figments of Ingrid’s imagination, Elin and Einar come to resonate as deeply as any of the film’s living, breathing characters.
With invaluable contributions from the great Greek d.p. Thimios Bakatakis (“Dogtooth”), editor Jens Christian Fodstad and composer Henk Hofstede’s allegro piano score, Vogt keeps his risky high-wire act in nearly perfect balance for all of “Blind’s” 95-minute running time. Yet, for all the obvious pleasure Vogt takes in bending and splintering the surface reality of the film, all his formal strategies issue directly from Inrgid and her fragile, profoundly human psyche. Petersen, a classic Nordic beauty with alabaster cheekbones and narrow, piercing eyes, is brilliant at showing how Ingrid’s blindness affects every inch of her being — how she moves, writes, dreams, and how she feels about herself as a woman. In perhaps the film’s most extraordinary moment, she strips to the bone and presses herself against her panoramic picture window, unable to see, but desperate to be seen.
Much as “Reprise” was stuffed with overachieving references to Proust, Maurice Blanchot and the untranslated Norwegian poet Tor Ulven, “Blind,” too, runs thick with eccentric pop-culture ephemera, from the obscure 1970 Norwegian omnibus film “Days From 1000 Years” to a running discussion of Leonard Nimoy as actor, photographer and chanteur (his cover of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” is heard on the soundtrack).