Review: Blind (Vogt, 2013) – Sundance 2014

Courtesy of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival website

Courtesy of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival website

I wasn’t sure until making this list that Blind was my favorite dramatic feature at Sundance this year, but when I compare it against everything else I’ve seen, its originality and playfulness sends it to the top. In his introduction before the screening, Norwegian director Eskil Vogt said that he loves watching movies, but when you watch enough of them they all begin to feel the same, to fall into the same familiar patterns. Therefore, he had made this movie for himself, something original that he would want to watch. Then he added, rather charmingly, that he was a little nervous—he’d almost forgotten that other people would see it, too. He hoped we’d like it. We did.

Though I’m not sure that Vogt succeeded in creating a completely original film—the narrative structure reminded me of Stranger than Fiction, one of my favorite movies, and several reviews have pointed out its Kaufman-like aspects–I still found it surprising and inventive. If Vogt wanted to create a movie where the audience couldn’t guess what would happen next, then this film certainly fit the bill.

Unlike other reviewers, I won’t go over a synopsis of the plot. Suffice it to say that the movie is located in the head of 30-something Ingrid, a woman who recently became blind due to a hereditary disease. Cooped up in her apartment afraid to step outside, the former schoolteacher begins to write stories to occupy her time. Soon, the lines between fiction and reality become blurred as her husband starts to make appearances in her stories.

Playful narrative structure aside, what I most appreciated about this movie was the tenderness with which Vogt creates these complex, vulnerable characters. As viewers, we can’t help feeling for the gently pathetic, porn-obsessed Einar and the lonely, Ingrid-tortured Elin, both figments of the protagonist’s imagination but nonetheless as authentic as any of the “real” characters in the movie. Morten is believable both in his role as Ingrid’s husband and as the erratic character in his wife’s fiction, subject both to her whimsy and misery. Finally, prickly Ingrid herself, while not the most likable character, is so true and complicated that I couldn’t help loving and admiring her anyway–and the writer/director who created her. Of course, none of this would have been possible without excellent performances by Ellen Dorrit Petersen (Ingrid), Henrik Rafaelsen (Morten), Vera Vitali (Elin), and Marius Kolbenstvedt (Einar).

Full disclosure: Blind is exactly the type of movie I am bound to love, precisely because of its whimsical tone, its reflections on the creative process, its ambitions to be both unique and emotionally realistic. In the Q&A session, Vogt explained that he disliked the story-telling convention where the main character must somehow have transformed by the end. He points out that real life isn’t like that, and it’s true. I appreciate him for breaking down narrative myths while still creating a relatable, beautiful, poignant film. Though this is Vogt’s directorial debut, he’s written screenplays for other films. Now I’m excited to see those, too.

Side note: During the Q&A, someone asked why the film was in Norwegian instead of English. The audience tittered in disbelief, and the stunned director responded that his native tongue was Norwegian, and so were the native tongues of all the actors. The questioner went on to say that she felt some of the meaning was lost in translation, but oh well… So I guess for those of you who prefer untranslated works, maybe this movie isn’t for you.

If you don’t mind plot spoilers and want a more in-depth review, I agree with everything that Variety‘s Chief Film Critic, Scott Foundas, says about this movie.