Sex (2024) Berlinale 2024

February 17th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Dag Johan Haugerud | Comedy Drama, Norway 125′

“Once a thing is known, it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten”. Anita Brookner, Look at Me

Compelling, absurd and offbeat this chilled-out Norwegian dark comedy reveals the complex dynamics of human desire in a simple parable that centres on the lives of two happily married chimney-sweeps, who just happen to be dyslexic.

Best known for his award-winning 2019 drama Barn – Dag Johan Haugerud’s latest – the first film in a trilogy to be followed by Dreams and Love – unfolds in a summery suburb of Oslo where the two heterosexual men are casually chatting over their canteen lunch. Their conversation is banal enough at first but what is soon revealed in this casual tete a tete between Feier (Jan Gunnar Roise) and Avdelingsleder (Thorbjorn Harr) will have far-reaching implications on their family relationships.

Feier admits to having had casual sex with a male stranger but Avdelingsleder’s response is revealing in its insight into modern attitudes in Norway: “Admitting you’ve had sex with a man is easier than admitting you’re Christian”.

Avdelingsleder – who reads Hannah Arendt in bed – then describes a dream where he is a woman who has sex with David Bowie. This leaves him confused and questioning how much his personality is shaped by how he appears to others. His wife (Brigitte Larsen) later points out: “homosexuality is not just an identity it’s an activity“.

Predictably, Feir’s wife (Siri Forberg) is not impressed when her partner shares his one-off sexual encounter, and his revelation will reverberate the fallout intruding into their daily lives. She wants a full and frank discussion about what exactly happened and this opens up a thorny debate between the two about physical and emotional experiences and how we all define marriage, relationships and coupledom in general. These conversations are surprisingly affecting and go to show just how fuzzy the borders are in desire and sexual attraction in a film that probes and challenges pre-conceived views on sexuality and gender roles, both for the characters and us, the audience.

Writer/Director Dag Johan Haugerud offers up an upbeat and enjoyable look at how as humans we pride ourselves on our unique ability to love and communicate verbally, although our enhanced brains also make our structured lives more complex: at the end of the day we are basically all animals, albeit human ones, but once we start to analyse our feelings that’s where our lives become complicated forcing open that universal ‘can of worms’ about infidelity and the purported differences between the male and female brains in a debate that ripples out into religious and moral norms in modern Norway.

Although the pace slackens as the film unfolds Sex is an upbeat and often moving affair that comes to a satisfying conclusion despite the couples’ differences and recriminations. At the end of day this is a candid film full of hope that offers a relaxed and positive view of coupledom: “Think of love as a choice. I’ve chosen you and you’ve chosen me”. @MeredithTaylor


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