Two brothers in their 40s are found dead in the forest. By their side lies a woman, very weak, but still alive. “All that matters is past” is the story of how Janne meets William after many years of separation. She leaves her family to live with him in a cabin by the river. They recreate the feeling of love and lust that they had as children, being sweethearts playing in the woods. But one day a Chinese baby girl is found floating down the river, and they realize that they are being haunted by William’s brother. William and Janne runs further into the woods, trying to escape from their nemesis.
– Written by JRN
TIFF 2012 Review: ALL THAT MATTERS IS PAST Stumbles Off The Rails
Sara Johnsen’s 2005 debut, Kissed By Winter, may not have blown the doors off the international film world but – blessed with strong performances, a well crafted script and a novel viewpoint on the thriller oriented material – it immediately established its creator as one of the bright young talents in Norway’s burgeoning film scene. If only that promise and those strengths were realized in this, her third film, All That Matters Is Past.
Janne (Maria Bonnevie) and William (Kristoffer Joner) have been in love since they were children, a love interrupted by tragedy. So how is it that just weeks after their reunion the duo, along with William’s brother Ruud, were discovered prone on the forest floor with William dead of blood loss, Ruud bludgeoned to death with a stone and Janne clinging barely to life? With that as her premise, Johnsen flashes back to take us through the lives of the trio to show us how we arrived at this supposed tragedy.
But here’s the principal problem: For the tragedy to be tragic, we need to care about these people. We need to feel that someone – either us or them – has lost something that actually matters. And Johnsen fails utterly to provide that emotional connection, both character to character and character to audience. The failure is two fold. First, she casts all three as essentially unlikeable characters. And second, she has them behave in ways that are foolish – if not outright stupid, and utterly defiant of basic logic – that leave the audience feeling, if anything, that what has happened is not tragic, but deserved.
How can you call these people unlikeable? First, they are given no context whatsoever. The core trio exists in an absolute vacuum, Johnsen ignoring anything about any of them which does not directly involve one another. We don’t know them – not at the start of the movie and no better at the end – and you cannot like what you do not know. And all you can do in this case is judge what you do not know based on what behavior you are shown. Behavior such as 14 year old Janne having a fling with Ruud for no reason whatsoever other than to hurt William – who she supposedly loves – while William is entirely passive, save for the occasional instance of tormenting his brother. And Ruud? An absolute caricature that goes no deeper than “Bad! Jealous! Stupid!”
Do I care about a woman who walks out on her family the moment her estranged husband walks into a room? No, I do not. Not when that is how she is introduced to the audience. Am I surprised that things turn out badly when the first thing that the reunited couple does is camp on the land owned by the estranged brother who once – SPOILER here – kidnapped Janne while she was pregnant, made her give birth in a field, and then held her captive for four days? No. No, I am not. In fact, I think they’re incredibly stupid people for going there at all, never mind the fact that they go and tell Ruud that they’re there almost the moment that they arrive.
And here’s the greatest failure of All That Matters Is Past. While it very much embraces the trappings and pretenses of serious art film – multiple urination scenes, a graphic birth sequence, multiple shots of naked pregnant women all scream “This is art, take me seriously” – when you lay out the actual plot line it is laughable in its extremes and willingness to pile outrage upon outrage without any concern for whether any actual people would ever behave in these ways. Telenovelas would be embarrassed to present this plotline and the arty trappings make it just all the more ridiculous. Johnsen’s debut may have been promising but she has gone badly off the rails here.