Limbo, Danish director Anna Sofie Hartmann’s first feature – that she also wrote – opens with a series of wide shots of sugar beets being processed in a factory in Nakskov, a small town in rural Denmark, home to the largest sugar factory that processes about 12, 000 tons of sugar beet per day. This is the environmental backdrop to Hartmann’s story shot at her alma mater with the means of her film school in Berlin and the help of friends. Limbo follows teenager Sara and her young teacher Karen as they develop a connection that is doomed right from the start and that ends tragically.
This is essentially the premise of this confused, unfocused, void, dull, and cold film. In fact, it takes us almost the entire film to see the connection between the sugar factory and the youths that the film portrays. The scattered shots of the sugar factory and fields throughout the film find the reason of their being an hour into the film, when the teacher takes a contemplative walk in the fields and later meets two young men from the factory who appear there at some point. Moreover, when Sara and her friends die in the car accident, the aftermath is never depicted nor discussed, almost as if they had never existed. We can only see that Karen shows remorse for not being able to requite Sara’s feelings after her death. Also, we cannot but wonder whether these young boys and girls have parents. We only see them at their usual everyday tasks without so much as knowing anything about them, something that creates even more distance between the audience and the characters. At the end of the day, we do not care about them. The only half drawn and sympathetic figure in Limbo is actually Karen.
Even though Limbo is a study of youth in Denmark, it unfortunately does not stand out as a particularly inventive or gripping coming of age story and this is most certainly a pity, as a rural town in Denmark should surely provide interesting stories. Otherwise, it only does little else than reinforce the trademark of Scandinavian melancholia and coldness. Coldness on so many levels. Furthermore, sometimes bordering the experimental, it is also hard to discern what Hartmann wants to do with this film and ultimately what her message is, effectively sending us into a true “limbo”. In that sense, only those who are into these kinds of experiences will like this film.
Nevertheless, the camerawork is excellent with clear and wide shots and close-ups, providing Limbo with an authentic, almost raw feel. What adds to it is the lack of music and a very strong presence of different natural sounds and dialogues. As far as the acting is concerned, the cast, composed of non-actors, delivers fairly good performances. The funniest – and perhaps the most absurd – figure in the film is a grandmother dressed in eccentric typical Danish clothes dancing and singing on a table. “Aya Ayaaaaaa; Aya Ayaaaaa”, she goes.
With Denmark being the cradle of strong European filmmaking, especially that of female directors (i.e. Susanne Bier), and her evident talent, it will only be a matter of time before Hartmann learns from her rookie mistakes in Limbo. But, being selected in the Kutxa-New Directions section at the San Sebastián Film Festival without having even completed her graduation film, is truly a merit in itself and should definitely be a distinction to be proud of. She will possibly follow in Bier’s footsteps one day…And, I therefore look forward to seeing her upcoming graduation film and sophomore feature.
Production: Berlin DFFB (Germany/Denmark 2014). Producers: Nina Helveg and Ben von Dobeneck. Director: Anna Sofie Hartmann. Screenplay: Anna Sofie Hartmann. Photography:Matilda Mester. Editing: Sofie Steenberger.
Cast: Sofia Nolsøe Mikkelsen (Karen), Annika Nuka Matthiasen (Sara)
Color – 80 min. Premiere: 23-IX-2014 (San Sebastián Film Festival)
This film was reviewed at the 2014 San Sebastián Film Festival.