Few films are as charming – or have as much heart – as Norwegian director Jens Lien’s masterful, hilarious, heartbreaking coming-of-age period piece, Sons of Norway.
And if “charming” and “heart” don’t sound like compelling reasons to investigate a film, consider this small but delightful bit of irony: it was exec-produced by cantankerous loudmouth John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, who also appears in a cameo.
You just know anything involving Lydon tilts decidedly sideways. Check out the trailer below.
What’s more, the film - which chronicles the impact of punk rock circa 1978 on a Norwegian kiddo who is coping with the sudden loss of his mother and the deep depression of his father – manages to reinforce powerful themes of rebellion, tenacity, love and hope while making us laugh our faces off, not least during a warts-and-all scene at a nudist camp.
Based on a somewhat autobiographical book by Oslo-based writer Nikolaj Frobenius – who also wrote the screenplay and is best known in these parts for penning the thriller Insomnia, which was adopted into a major Hollywood production starring Al Pacino in 2002 – Sons of Norway dares to ask the question: how do you rebel against your hippie Dad when he ends up loving punk rock and even playing in your band?
In addition to adding Western star power, Lydon’s involvement meant that Sons of Norway could use Sex Pistols music, an obvious asset in a film where characters name-check the band.
In town for TIFF to discuss the film (in flawless English I might add), director Lien and writer Frobenius revealed, among other things, that for all his bluster, Lydon has a soft spot for kids… and especially, for Scandinavians.
Hollywood North: Last night at a public screening, people went crazy for the movie. That must be incredibly gratifying.
Jens Lien: It is. We were very curious to know how this would work abroad because it is Norwegian, with local references and jokes. But it worked.
HN: I assume you had read the book this movie is based on?
JL: Yes, I met Nikolaj at a dinner four years ago having read Theory or Practice (the source material) and I really liked the father-son relationship. It really spoke to me, maybe because I have kids myself about the same age as those in the story. I was very touched. So we talked about developing it into a movie. The book follows [the character of] Nikolaj from age six to 15 so we had to condense it quite a bit. But Nikolaj went away and wrote a fantastic script in one month.
HN: So you guys took your script to John Lydon having already written him into it. What if he had said no? Did you have a plan B?
JL: No. Well, the plan B was to get enough money to buy one [Sex Pistols] song to use in the movie. But his involvement kind of elevated the whole thing and he managed to help us get the rights to use more songs in the movie. That he was willing to fly to Norway to be filmed was just incredible. I am not sure why he chose to do this, honestly, other than the fact that he said he liked the script, the idea of punk rock being seen from a kid’s point of view.
Nikolaj Frobenius: Also, John was quite passionate about the Nordic countries; although his band was based in the UK they played a lot of gigs in Scandinavia. So he was attached to that region.
JL: When he came over to film his scene, he was only supposed to be there for a day or two but he stayed for a week. So he must have liked it there. And he didn’t strike us as somehow who would do something he didn’t have to do.
HN: The lead actor, Åsmund Høeg, is truly amazing and it’s hard to imagine the film working without him.
JL: It took us a year to cast that role. Åsmund looked a bit different than what I had in my head but he had this vulnerability that was incredible. He doesn’t say much in the film, so he has to communicate with eyes and body language. And this kid had no barrier to his emotions. And he was very smart. We had a coach who was working with him, who would make him very angry, then we’d turn on the camera and he was acting.
Sons of Norway screens Saturday, September 17, Scotiabank Theatre 11, 7 pm.