Exercising Care in Judgment

Passing judgment is something that, for what it’s worth, seems to come all too easily to most of us. That’s especially true when someone engages in acts that affect us negatively, and, in some cases, such blame may be genuinely deserved. But what happens if such effects result from acts that originate with honest, benign intentions? And what if we unwittingly contribute to those outcomes? How should we react then? Is judgment still warranted? Such are the questions raised in the new Norwegian rom-com/character study, “The Worst Person in the World” (“Verdens verste menneske”) (web site, trailer).

Making up one’s mind about what one wants out of life isn’t always easy. That seems to be especially true for Julie (Renate Reinsve), a twenty-something Oslo resident who seems perpetually lost in a sea of indecision. Consider her career path, for example. Having attained good grades as an undergraduate, she’s thrilled to have qualified to enroll in medical school. But, not long after starting down this path, she finds herself bored and dissatisfied, prompting her to change lanes and pursue the study of psychology. Of course, that doesn’t work out, either, and so she picks up a camera to try her hand at photography, a pursuit that she believes will leave her more creatively fulfilled. It also introduces her to an array of interesting people, most notably sexy, eligible men. And, with this development, her romantic life quickly turns robust and virtually takes over, essentially rendering her once-vibrant career ambitions secondary.

One evening, while on a date with one of her edgy hipster beaus, Julie’s life takes yet another turn. She meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a successful graphic novelist known for his politically incorrect material. They hit it off well, despite their age difference (Aksel is a decade older). They soon move in together, Julie seeming to have finally shed her ostensibly fickle ways. Indeed, she may have finally found what she’s looking for.

If only that were true.

Unsettled, indecisive twenty-something Oslo resident Julie (Renate Reinsve, left) believes she may have finally found happiness in her life when she settles down with middle-aged graphic novelist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, right) in director Joachim Trier’s latest offering, “The Worst Person in the World” (“Verdens verste menneske”). Photo courtesy of Oslo Pictures.

Julie’s restlessness with her circumstances soon resurfaces. She’s still unsettled vocationally, trying her hand at writing and then taking a job working in a bookstore, but nothing feels quite right. Each time something doesn’t work, she unhesitatingly backs away, often quite suddenly and seemingly spontaneously, all the while making her discontent plainly known. What’s more, tensions slowly simmer in her relationship with Aksel, who, with the onset of middle age, is looking to finally settle down and start a family, a goal that Julie doesn’t share. She hasn’t closed herself off from the idea of having children, but she’s clearly not interested in it for the foreseeable future. So what’s next?

That’s a question Julie is unprepared to answer. She has a good handle on knowing what she doesn’t want, but her grasp of what she does want is virtually nonexistent. Her resolute, unapologetic indecisiveness comes to be viewed as capricious, even somewhat narcissistic, especially when she freely acknowledges and acts on it, even if there’s significant fallout that impacts others. At the same time, though, she’s also quietly troubled by her lack of progress in finding herself, an outgrowth of that same indecisiveness, a point made all the more apparent as her 30th birthday approaches – and as Aksel’s star continues to rise.

This quandary bubbles to the surface when she attends a publishing event with Aksel, where his successes are widely celebrated and she is largely relegated to the background. Discouraged, she decides to leave, telling Aksel that he should stay and enjoy himself. After departing, Julie chooses to walk home, taking a leisurely stroll through the streets of Oslo. While on her way, she walks past a residence where a lively wedding reception is taking place. She’s curious about the festivities and the fun that everyone seems to be having, prompting her to spontaneously crash the event.

Despite Julie’s best efforts to inconspicuously blend in, however, her cover is not convincing enough to fool one of the guests, Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a married café barista who’s attending the event solo. They strike up a lengthy conversation on a variety of subjects, a dialogue that’s decidedly intimate but without turning overtly sexual. They opt not to take matters to that level, because Julie’s not prepared to cheat on Aksel, and Eivind can’t bring himself to be unfaithful to his wife, Sunniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo). Nevertheless, there’s a definite chemistry between them, most likely driven by their comparable ages and outlooks on life. By evening’s end, they part ways, believing their chance encounter to have been a pleasant, one-time event.

Again, if only that were true.

As time passes, relations sour between Julie and Aksel and between Eivind and Sunniva, freeing them up to pursue new possibilities. Julie and Eivind complement one another well in that, unlike their former partners, they’re each willing to give the other space and freedom to be themselves, unwilling to bend to the others’ whims. It’s an arrangement that seems destined for success. But there comes a time when that thoughtful, accommodating understanding begins to slowly deteriorate. The freedom this relationship affords Julie shines a bright light on the fact that she still hasn’t found herself or her destiny, leaving her once again feeling unsettled and unfulfilled, especially when she sees Eivind content to stay put and enjoy the laid-back stability that his relationship with Sunniva often didn’t allow, something the restless one looks upon as unambitious.

Julie’s quiet obsession with this failing gnaws away at her, leaving her feeling like “the worst person in the world.” It’s an emotion that has dogged her for quite some time, too, especially when it’s been exacerbated by the judgment leveled against her by others, most notably those who have been negatively impacted by her unapologetic self-directed behavior over the years. In some ways, they also view her as the worst person in the world for having inflicted such inconsiderate anguish upon them, even though her actions, regardless of how hurtful they may have been, were nevertheless open, honest, up-front responses to the unsatisfactory circumstances that she decided she was no longer willing to endure. Ironically, some of Julie’s actions came in response to what others sought to impose upon her, conditions that she ultimately saw as limiting and unacceptable. In a sense, then, those behaviors could conceivably be viewed as making each of those other individuals out to be the worst person in the world in their own right, too. Indeed, perhaps this is a quality that we all potentially carry within us, thus raising questions about how we should respond when it comes to judging the behavior of others – particularly when we might well possess the same trait we’re criticizing. (Something about being without sin and casting the first stone comes to mind here.)

A chance encounter at a wedding reception leads to an intriguingly intimate, though non-sexual, relationship between Oslonians Eivind (Herbert Nordrum, left) and Julie (Renate Reinsve, right) in the insightful Norwegian romantic comedy/character study, “The Worst Person in the World” (“Verdens verste menneske”). Photo courtesy of Oslo Pictures.

This realization thus places Julie in an entirely new light. To be sure, some of her behavior could justifiably be seen as inconsiderate and selfish. Yet, in light of the foregoing, what some might see as unacceptable, self-centered behavior may just be part of being human, a characteristic we may all possess to a certain extent. Consequently, undergoing such situations could be looked upon as a difficult but integral aspect of learning what it’s like to be who we inherently are, no matter how much we might dislike it. Pointing fingers in dismay at transgressors might provide a degree of short-term relief under such conditions, but it doesn’t dismiss the fact that scenarios like this also constitute an opportunity to hold up a mirror and take a good, hard look at ourselves – and learn that we may need to go easier on others in circumstances like these. Indeed, going Biblical once again, let us forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

So where does Julie go from here? That’s what ensues as the remainder of this story unfolds, and there are even more unexpected twists and turns that occur along the way, some of which don’t directly originate with her. Such events thus provide Julie with an opportunity to hold up a mirror to herself and see the impact that the actions of others can have on someone – and, this time, on Julie herself.

Finding oneself can be challenging when we don’t have a clue, and Julie’s experience is far from exceptional. However, one aspect helps to distinguish her circumstances from those that many go through – she’s not afraid to admit it. As she tries her hand at multiple endeavors, she has the courage to recognize what doesn’t work. She’s genuinely lost, which accounts for her ongoing changes in vocation and romance. And the more such changes occur, the more she becomes convinced that’s her nature, a notion that becomes embedded in her beliefs and, consequently, in the manifested reality around her.

Many would probably legitimately wonder why Julie can’t make up her mind. Others – especially those more intimately familiar with her – would also look upon her in anger and disappointment given the negative impact her behavior often has on them. They’re likely to claim that she led them on, and, on some level, one could argue that they’d be justified in their feelings. At the same time, though, Julie is generally up front about herself. Even if she’s indecisive, she’s at least authentic about it, and, while that may be frustrating for others to deal with, it’s nevertheless honest, a crucial starting point in helping her figure out what she wants. That, of course, depends on not becoming so entrenched in beliefs about her indecisiveness that she becomes perpetually stuck by it.

To Julie’s credit, her willingness to explore various aspects of life can ultimately work to her benefit. By leaving herself open to investigating different possibilities, she increases her chances of finding what best suits her, enabling her to rule out what doesn’t work and to include what does. Indeed, everything in our existence is in a constant state of becoming, an expression of the inherent evolution that we all go through, and the more we allow it, the more likely we’ll arrive at what we’re looking for.

This can prove to be a valuable life lesson. Oftentimes, though, we don’t allow ourselves to experience it. We’re frequently afraid that others will frown upon us for making frequent changes, seeing us as fickle or flighty. In turn, we may subsequently heap shame upon ourselves for that, viewing our inability to choose as a fault rather than as a means to legitimately find our way. And, should that happen, we really run the risk of becoming stuck – permanently.

Forever chasing her destiny, unsettled, indecisive yet plainspoken twenty-something Oslo resident Julie (Renate Reinsve) seeks to find herself in director Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” (“Verdens verste menneske”). Photo courtesy of Oslo Pictures.

This is where the foregoing discussion about judgment becomes so important, especially if our behavior contributes to the indecisiveness that someone experiences. Undue criticism on our part toward them may lead to the stagnation and lack of focus they undergo, prompting them to unwittingly accept the labels that are unjustly thrust them. And, all the while, we may not acknowledge the part we played in the development of the beliefs and actions that caused these results. Indeed, we may inadvertently contribute to the making of what we later unfairly criticize.

No matter how we end up getting to where we’re supposed to be, we should learn to be gentle on ourselves – and others – as we make our way there. It’s a process, one often filled with trial and error as we move forward. This is not meant to be an out for inexcusable behavior, but it is intended to be forgiving when the need genuinely arises. That may be a challenging belief to embrace, but we just might find that it’s one that pays valuable dividends in the long run, both for us and those who benefit from it – and for anyone else who has a little bit of the worst person in the world in them.

Writer-director Joachim Trier’s latest illustrates how the journey of self-discovery is not an easy one, a process about which we should be careful in terms of how we judge it, especially when we realize that the bottom line in this is something to which we might all fall prey, mainly because we’re all ultimately only human. Told in 12 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, the film provides a series of snapshots of this process rather than an ongoing sequential narrative, showing viewers how events play out for the protagonist over time as she seeks to find herself. The sparklingly crisp screenplay, penned by the director and collaborator Eskil Vogt, features insightful writing reminiscent of Woody Allen, particularly in its spot-on depiction of women’s sensibilities. The picture’s expertly blended palette of diverse filming styles and superb lead performance of Renate Reinsve (winner of the best actress award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival) combine with all of this offering’s other strengths to make for one of the year’s best movie-going experiences. While the film has primarily played on the festival circuit thus far, it’s scheduled to go into general release on February 4. Avid cinephiles should rush to go see it.

Even though “Worst Person” has largely flown beneath the radar thus far, it has not gone without recognition. As noted above, Reinsve captured the best actress award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, an event at which this release also earned a nomination for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest honor. In addition, the picture captured a Critics Choice Award nomination for best foreign language film. It has also been shortlisted as Norway’s official entry in the International Feature Film category at this year’s upcoming Oscars.

Who we end up becoming depends on what we believe and how we see ourselves. It would be great if such visions popped into our heads with sparkling definition and clarity, but, as Julie’s experience illustrates, that’s not always the case. Consequently, as we sort out those images and that process, we need to cultivate patience and tolerance with ourselves – and those around us – as we undertake such a venture, one that requires committed determination and may even result in some pleasant surprises. But few things will quash that enthusiasm faster than undue criticism and misplaced judgment. They can derail the process and leave us forever lost, and that truly might leave us feeling like the worst person in the world.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

The Best and Worst of 2021 

It’s that time of year again – time for my wrap-up of the best – and worst – movies of the year. Find out which releases made it into my Top 10 and Bottom 10 countdowns, along with my lists of honorable and dishonorable mentions, by reading “The Best – and Worst – of 2021,” available by clicking here. And be on the lookout for the documentary edition of the best and worst of 2021, coming soon! 

Award-winning Previews on Frankiesense & More

In the run-up to this year’s awards ceremonies, Hollywood is releasing some of its best work of the year. So what’s worth seeing, and what can be skipped? Find out on this month’s edition of The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More video podcast with yours truly and special guest host Danielle Findlay. Tune in Thursday January 27 at 1 pm ET on Facebook Live, available by clicking here, for a lively discussion of new releases worth seeing. And, as always, you can always catch the show on demand!

The Perils of Unchecked Ambition

Getting ahead in life is certainly admirable, but what happens when that drive gets seriously out of hand? Can we stifle the mayhem that’s sure to result? That’s especially problematic when the fate of a nation and its leadership are at stake. Such is the case in the latest film adaptation of a timeless classic, William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (web site, trailer).

As one of Shakespeare’s best-known works, it’s hard to believe that there’s anyone who’s not already familiar with the plot of this tragic saga. Having been presented countless times on stage and screen, with roughly 30 movie versions in one form or another, this timeless tale has established itself as one of the most notable works in literary, theatrical and cinematic history. Nevertheless, for the benefit of the uninitiated, here’s what has made this story so enduring.

Having recently defeated the allied forces of Ireland and Norway in a failed attempt to attack their native Scotland, two of the homeland’s distinguished generals, Banquo (Bertie Carvel) and Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis (Denzel Washington), are praised for their bravery and fighting skills. As they make their way home to receive their accolades from Scottish sovereign King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson), they encounter a trio of witches, one of whom (Kathryn Hunter) imparts three prophecies. The enigmatic seer tells Macbeth that he will soon receive a new title and, subsequently, become King of Scotland. Banquo, meanwhile, learns that he will not assume the throne but will one day become the father of a lineage of future Scottish kings.

As they scheme to advance themselves, Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor (Denzel Washington, left), and his headstrong, ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand, right), devise a heinous plan to ascend to the throne of Scotland in director Joel Coen’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s epic saga, “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Photo courtesy of A24.

The duo then leaves to continue their journey, skeptical about what they just heard. However, before long, they encounter Ross (Alex Hassell), another Scottish nobleman, who informs Macbeth that he has just been named the Thane of Cawdor, a revelation thereby affirming fulfillment of the first prophecy. With this information, Macbeth gives new credence to the prophecies and begins musing about the possibility of becoming king, though uncertainties linger.

Upon arrival at the court of King Duncan, Macbeth learns that the monarch plans to visit him at his castle, Inverness. Macbeth believes that the new title and royal visitation stand him in good stead with the sovereign; as a kinsman of the king and his recent good fortune, he believes he’s in line to become heir apparent. However, Macbeth then learns, much to his dismay, that Duncan has named his elder son, Malcolm (Harry Melling), as his successor.

The aspirant royal is quietly enraged at the decision but is still not entirely sure how to proceed. He soon changes his mind, however, when he tells his wife, Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand), about the witches’ prophecies and recent developments. Macbeth’s determined, headstrong spouse has no reservations about her husband pursuing his destiny, and she shames him into action when she challenges his will to succeed. Upon Duncan’s visit, she urges Macbeth to murder the king in his sleep and put the blame on his personal chamberlains, a frame that initially holds up. Duncan’s death also prompts Malcolm and his younger brother, Donalbain (Matt Helm), to flee to England in fear of their lives, both as potential targets for murder and as suspects in their father’s demise. And so their hasty departure leaves the door open for Macbeth, as one of Duncan’s kinsmen, to ascend to the throne.

Prophecies imparted by an enigmatic witch (Kathryn Hunter) spark a trail of carnage in the latest film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s epic saga, “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” now available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of A24.

Despite Macbeth’s apparent “success,” his plan soon begins to falter, especially with the arrival of Macduff, the Thane of Fife (Corey Hawkins), at Inverness. Suspicions arise, forcing Macbeth into a string of heinous acts to maintain his cover story. But, to complicate matters further, Macbeth and his wife begin seeing apparitions and having hallucinatory experiences that play on their guilt. Ambition, it seems, has started to get the better of them, leading the illegitimate monarch down a path of tragedy even greater than the atrocities he and his spouse have already committed.

Most of us would likely agree that ambition is truly a virtue, one to which we all seek to aspire. However, when left unchecked, it can readily get out of control. And, in many instances, there’s often a fine line between what would be considered legitimate determination and what is looked upon as flagrant, maniacal behavior. So what’s the difference between the two? It comes down to our beliefs, for they drive how circumstances unfold and, in turn, how our reality manifests, for better or worse. And, in Macbeth’s case, his beliefs are decidedly geared toward the latter.

Macduff, Thane of Fife (Corey Hawkins), has suspicions about events leading to the recent ascendancy of Scotland’s new monarch in director Joel Coen’s adaptation of “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Photo courtesy of A24.

Once Macbeth realizes there’s a possibility the witch’s prophecies might come true and learns that he’s not the favorite to become king, he undergoes a shift in attitude, one that percolates into his beliefs. Even though he’s conflicted by uncertainties at the prospect of ascending to the throne, that doubt is swept away when his wife cajoles him into taking action. A new, determined set of beliefs falls into place, providing him with a template on how to proceed. It’s a radical plan, to be sure, but he sees it as a viable option to attain what he wants, and he doesn’t hesitate to follow through on it.

Detestable though they may be, Macbeth’s actions illustrate that our beliefs can make anything possible. But is killing one’s sovereign the wisest course for advancing one’s ambitions? When we pursue such paths as this, we engage in a scenario in which we seek the fulfillment of our aspirations at all costs, regardless of the consequences and with no regard for whatever fallout may ensue. It’s a perilous practice in that we may indeed get what we’re looking for but at a price, one that yields outcomes in a distorted form and rife with unexpected, unintended side effects. This, in turn, often requires the implementation of additional adjustments to make up for those issues, frequently on short notice and drastic in nature. One need only look at Macbeth’s experience after Duncan’s murder to see this at work. And those outcomes reflect those intents with remarkable fidelity, right down to the smallest detail, something we should never lose sight of.

Overcome with guilt, Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) begins seeing apparitions and having hallucinatory experiences related to her role in the murder of the King of Scotland in the latest film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Photo courtesy of A24.

In Macbeth’s case, he wants to be king, but that’s an attainment that can be reached in many different ways, again depending on one’s beliefs. The fulfillment of this goal, for example, could be reached by simply waiting for Duncan to live out his life, potentially leaving the door open to Macbeth’s ascendancy upon the sovereign’s death. By contrast, it can also be achieved by the kinds of nefarious means that Macbeth and his wife cook up to bring about the outcome quickly and decisively, but with a hefty set of unforeseen strings attached. And, of course, many other options are available, too, depending on the underlying beliefs involved.

Given the path Macbeth follows, one can’t help but wonder why he and his wife believe they need to follow the course they do. Do they feel a sense of urgency, a need to strike while the iron is hot? Are they afraid that Macbeth’s window of opportunity is fleeting in light of Duncan naming Malcolm as his successor? Or is there some other consideration at work that’s resulted in the abbreviated time table?

Were Macbeth and his wife to open their mind to other possibilities, they might realize that they’re not locked into the path they’ve chosen. For example, given the infinite number of probabilities that our beliefs make possible, they’re not saddled with the witch’s prophecies as their only option. Those pronouncements represent just one of countless roads open to them. Of course, the strength of their beliefs in that particular possibility dictates what will unfold. And, because of that, this illustrates why we must exercise tremendous care in the beliefs we choose to embrace and what they’re likely to yield, a cautionary tale if there ever were one.

Once-respected Scottish general Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor (Denzel Washington), experiences a tremendous fall from grace when he pursues an overly ambitious plan to ascend the throne of Scotland in director Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Photo courtesy of A24.

While William Shakespeare’s legendary tragedy has been translated to the screen more times than one can count, this version from director Joel Coen does remarkable justice to the material, especially in technical terms. The film’s stark, exquisite black-and-white cinematography and stylish production design, reminiscent of German expressionism, are positively stunning, suitably complemented by deft film editing and the ethereal score of Carter Burwell. The superb ensemble cast delivers, too, particularly protagonist Denzel Washington and supporting players Corey Hawkins and, especially, Frances McDormand. If I were to find something missing here it would be that the picture isn’t as emotionally engaging as it could have been, with its cold, distant ambiance putting up an often-imposing wall between narrative and viewers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, given the filmmaker’s take on this story, but it admittedly keeps the audience at arm’s-length more than some cinephiles may feel comfortable with. Still, the timeless quality of this tragedy nevertheless comes through, making this one of the best cinematic offerings of 2021. The film is playing in limited theatrical release and is available for streaming online.

“Macbeth” has been lavished with praise, especially for Washington’s outstanding lead performance, earning best actor nominations in the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice Award competitions. The film’s superb cinematography has also drawn considerable attention, earning a Critics Choice Award nomination and an award from the National Board of Review, which also bestowed honors for best adapted screenplay. In addition, the picture was named one of 2021’s top films by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review. Other accolades are almost certain to follow.

When things of a malevolent nature get a foothold in fertile ground, they can grow incredibly powerful, particularly when fed with the belief energy capable of sustaining them. This is true both for tangible items, like pathogens, as well as intangible ones, like ideas – which, in turn, can cross over into the corporeal realm and wreak havoc in their various newfound physical forms. It’s at that point when, as the witch poignantly observes, “something wicked this way comes.” But the chaos and carnage that can emerge from such circumstances need not be a foregone conclusion if we temper our beliefs with prudence and wisdom. Had Macbeth done so, he might well have realized a different fate, a lesson we’d all be wise to take to heart.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Celebrating the Virtues of Personal Freedom

Where would we be without personal freedom? The prospect is rather daunting, especially once we consider what we’d lose. Its absence can prove particularly detrimental during certain times in our lives, such as adolescence and young adulthood, when we’re just beginning to grasp the possibilities that the world can afford us. And that can be made even worse if we’re shielded from being able to see those options in the first place. Such are the circumstances that an aspiring poet discovers for herself when she emerges from longstanding isolation in the thought-provoking new documentary, “Skál” (“Cheers”) (web site, trailer).

Leading a sheltered, isolated life can provide one with a significant degree of comfort, safety and certainty. Knowing how things are – and how they’re allegedly (and steadfastly) supposed to be – serves to remove much of the doubt, ambiguity and insecurity that those lacking such unshakable conviction often experience. Attaining such a state of being is comparatively easy, too, when one lives in a tight-knit conservative Christian community in which everyone looks after one another. And that’s particularly true in a sparsely populated remote location like the Faroe Islands, an autonomous North Atlantic enclave of the Danish Commonwealth located nearly equidistant between Scotland, Iceland and Norway.

Those multiple layers of seclusion have kept 21-year-old Dania O. Tausen confined to a fairly limited range of existence and experience. Frequent reinforcement of her community’s spiritual and ethical values, especially by her loving but less than open-minded parents, has led Dania to unquestioningly embrace notions like “Either you believe in Jesus or you believe in Satan. There’s no in between.” And, for most of her life, she’s willingly gone along with what she was taught. In fact, her devotion is so strong that she has often been prominently featured as a singer at the congregation’s services and special events, making her one of the community’s better-known members.

Aspiring poet Dania O. Tausen discovers a wide new world when she leaves the conservative Christian community in which she was raised in the new Faroese coming of age documentary, “Skál” (“Cheers”). Photo by Cecilie Debell, courtesy of Made in Copenhagen.

But is this truly enough? When we’re in our youth, we often go through a time of exploration and introspection, examining our world, our beliefs and what we want out of life. And, when we’re exposed to a wide range of options and ideas that come from outside the existence we’ve typically known, it can have a profound impact on us, leading us to a change of heart on many fronts. Indeed, the age-old adage “How are you going to keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen Paris?” frequently rings true. That’s certainly the case for Dania when she moves out of her family’s residence and takes a place with her friend Marjun in Tórshavn, the capital and largest city in the Faroes, a locale where she’s exposed to an array of secular influences far different from anything she’s ever known.

Dania’s schooling, for example, introduces her to a wide range of people and ideas not at all like anything from her upbringing. Socially she begins engaging in activities like going to clubs. And, romantically, she meets and begins dating a popular hip hop artist, Trygvi Danielsen, who performs under the name Silvurdrongur (Silver Kid) and composes songs containing in-your-face lyrics on subjects that Dania’s family and congregation are likely to find more than a little objectionable.

Needless to say, these changes in Dania’s behavior prompt her religious peers to question her faith. They wonder whether she has come under the influence of negative forces. Her parents in particular are especially worried. Has she been lost to them? Has she indeed fallen prey to the clutches of Satan?

These concerns are inflated further when Dania begins writing a collection of poems addressing issues like teenage rebellion, anxiety and freedom, all of which openly question the conventional values she was raised with. Her upbringing is thus placed under the microscope, and her poems develop quite a following among contemporaries when they’re published in a book titled Skál (Cheers), a work that becomes a local best seller and a staple in the Faroese educational system. In many ways, the poetry anthology is a testament to the feelings of a restless generation that hungers for greater degrees of expression in their art, their lives and their spirituality.

As Dania achieves this newfound notoriety, she explains herself to the skeptics, saying that she does not wish to abandon her faith or her community. Rather, she merely seeks to help it evolve, encouraging a greater degree of tolerance, freedom and a willingness to allow individuals (especially younger ones) wider latitude in being themselves. Dania, Trygvi and Marjun all want to be accepted for who they are, not who they’re expected to be, a birthright to which they believe everyone is entitled. Admittedly, this is a tough sell in this North Atlantic Bible Belt, where religion plays such an ingrained role in virtually every aspect of daily life and social interaction. But Dania believes that she needs to make a statement to enable the residents of this remote archipelago to feel less restricted in their outlooks, their behavior and even their physical appearances.

Hip hop artist Trygvi Danielsen, who performs under the name Silvurdrongur (Silver Kid), may seem rather unassuming, but his works are anything but that as seen in the new Faroese coming of age documentary, “Skál” (“Cheers”). Photo by Cecilie Debell, courtesy of Made in Copenhagen.

Can this goal be accomplished, or will residents of the Faroes be forced to continue living double lives as closeted free spirits in a closed-off society? That’s the challenge she and her kindreds face. And, if nothing else, their efforts at least have helped to get the process started. The clashes between young and old, tradition and progress, and secular and spiritual considerations are all on the line in this initiative. One can only hope that equitable compromises can be reached. Cheers to those who seek to accomplish this.

While I generally attempt to make a sincere effort at respecting the views and beliefs of others, I must also confess that there’s a notable exception to that attitude, one that invariably crops up from time to time – my inability to respect the views of those who insist on refusing to respect the beliefs of others. And, from what I see in this film, there are those in Dania’s community who hold fast to that outlook, a perspective I find disquieting.

Because of that, I applaud the efforts of Marjun, Trygvi, and, especially, Dania to proudly be themselves, to live their lives in the ways they see fit, despite the objections of others. Perhaps that’s because their views readily align with my own. Their outlooks, based on zealously embracing wide latitude when it comes to self-expression in all its forms, are integral to the beliefs they hold and the reality they experience based on those beliefs, no matter what they may be and what they may be intended to materialize. And, given that there are infinite possibilities in the range of belief options, that also means there are infinite permutations for what they can ultimately yield. That wide range of possibilities flies in the face of the rigid dogma of conventional thinking, such as that of many traditional religious organizations, in terms of what they espouse, what they consider acceptable, and what their followers are supposed to compliantly adopt and avoid.

Freeing oneself from such restrictions carries a multitude of implications, both philosophically and practically, with impact that can be seen on many fronts. That’s especially true during the coming of age phase of our lives, for the attitudes we embrace then will set a template that we often employ for the remainder of our days. It’s something that can significantly affect the quality of our lives from that point forward.

After leaving the conservative Christian community in which she was raised, aspiring poet Dania O. Tausen (left) moves to Tórshavn, the capital and largest city in the Faroe Islands, where she meets an array of colorful individuals, like rapper Trygvi Danielsen (right), in the captivating new documentary, “Skál” (“Cheers”). Photo by Cecilie Debell, courtesy of Made in Copenhagen.

Embracing beliefs that enable us to give ourselves permission to broaden our horizons generally makes it possible to vanquish restrictions and limitations, obstacles that can hinder our creative freedom, prevent the emergence of our authentic selves, and curtail our capabilities for achieving satisfaction and fulfillment. That’s a lot to lose, but, if we don’t stalwartly step forward and claim such personal sovereignty for ourselves, that’s what is very likely to happen.

Consider some of the ramifications. In both a general and specific sense, it can stifle our creativity. This is true in a range of areas, from creating tangible works of art to developing inventive problem-solving skills to envisioning the manifestation of conceptions never before dreamed of. Think of where we might be without those skills at our disposal.

On a personal level, the lack of these conditions in our lives can do much to take most of the enjoyment out of life. Areas like romance, freedom of expression and the ability to pursue chosen lifestyles can all be hampered when we’re reined in (or allow ourselves to be). Where’s the fun in that?

Then there are life’s bigger questions. Without the ability to exercise our ambitions, we can severely limit ourselves when it comes to matters that are bigger than us as individuals. Examples include tolerance, evolution, innovation, integrity, and personal and social growth and development. Where would we be individually and collectively without those influences in our lives? Indeed, without them, we have a sure-fire recipe for stagnation on our hands, and where would that leave us?

In light of that, we could learn much from what Dania, Trygvi and Marjun are attempting to do. There’s much on the line, so much so that the implications may even be bigger than what they can fully appreciate. But what’s important is that they’re doing it. Cheers to them – and to their success.

Like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, poet Dania O. Tausen (foreground) and rapper Trygvi Danielsen (background) share an unlikely, somewhat forbidden romance in “Skál” (“Cheers”), the debut documentary collaboration from directors Cecilie Debell and Maria Tórgarð. Photo by Troels Rasmus Jensen, courtesy of Made in Copenhagen.

Though billed as a documentary, this captivating release plays more like a docu-drama or even a big screen version of reality TV. The film’s philosophical, romantic, artistic and coming of age elements are skillfully interwoven, creating a beautiful tapestry featuring an array of gorgeous colors and patterns, especially given the diverse backgrounds of its protagonists and the breathtaking backdrop for their story. Directors Cecilie Debell and Maria Tórgarð present an honest love story with deep spiritual and thought-provoking undercurrents, narrative elements often lacking in similar offerings. The film’s truly stunning cinematography is a sight to behold, showing off the seldom-seen beauty of the Faroe Islands. And, when combined with the picture’s heartfelt, intimate depictions of personal moments, the filmmakers serve up an unusual cinematic blend rarely featured in many movies, let alone those in the documentary genre. My only problem with this release is that so many of the most significant moments seem so perfectly captured that it almost makes me wonder about the validity of their authenticity, that they play more like scripted material than spontaneously caught events. That aside, though, this thoughtful, insightful release provides viewers with much to ponder, backed by gorgeous images and genuine warmth, quite an irony for a story set in such an otherwise-chilly locale.

Unfortunately, at this time, it may take some effort to find “Skál,” as it’s primarily been playing the film festival circuit. Nevertheless, it’s an offering worth seeing, one that earned it the Chicago Film Festival’s Gold Hugo Award as the top selection in the event’s International Documentary Competition.

Personal freedom is a virtue we must never take for granted. It’s something we must commit to preserving and be willing to fight for when others try to restrict our access to it. That becomes especially apparent when we consider the many roles it plays in our lives. Indeed, we run the risk of a seriously diminished existence if we fail at this task – and that would take away a lot of what makes life worth living.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

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