Friday, June 21, 2024

“ARMAND”

THE STORY – During one fatal afternoon in an empty elementary school the two mothers of Armand (6) and Jon (6) get into a desperate fight to be believed when one son is accused of crossing boundaries against the other. All means are used, and soon a blend of madness, desire and obsession arises. Where the truth lies is impossible to know, and soon everything evolves less and less around the children, who we never meet, and more about the adults.

THE CAST – Renate Reinsve, Thea Lambrechts Vaulen, Øystein Røger, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Endre Hellestveit & Vera Veljovic

THE TEAM – Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 116 Minutes


A palpable fear can come into play when uncovering an unknown danger, which can feel even more distinct when it hits close to home – a passing moment that touches one indirectly before showcasing the true impact it will reveal. These circumstances are even more terrifying when presented in piecemeal, slowly coming through the wire as vital context comes through the sidelines. Much can be discovered in how a person reacts to such a situation, whether that be maintaining a commanding persona or allowing the events to overwhelm and take on grander personal meaning. “Armand” sets its gaze on a quiet gathering with explosive consequences, though what it eventually exhibits is an enticing premise that quickly turns lethargic.

It’s a quiet day at a Norwegian elementary school, but a serious topic must be broached. A group of administrators have called a meeting between the parents of two boys involved in a disturbing incident. Sarah (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) and Anders (Endre Hellestveit) have come on behalf of their son Jon, the victim in this alleged assault. Elisabeth (Renate Reinsve) is there because her son Armand is said to have perpetuated a horrifically violent crime on his classmate. Sarah and Anders are committed to seeking some justice for this behavior while Elisabeth, an emotional tornado consuming every second of her ounce of energy in the room, comes to her son’s defense. Despite the organizers trying to maintain peace, emotions inevitably become heated, and what started as a means to resolve one altercation exposes many more issues from every participant in this process.

The narrative’s foundation is incredibly strong and engrossing. Writer/director Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel establishes an effective atmosphere of tension that eagerly draws the audience into the mystery that will unfold. The empty building makes even the slightest of footsteps and door openings scream with a thunderous noise, and the stark emptiness adds to the horror of the liminal space. A location associated with happy children has turned darkly disturbing, and the aura is thick with apprehension. “Armand” never shows what actually happened between the boys, and they are almost exclusively spoken about and never seen. The dialogue concerning which facts matter – in truth which may be more like subjective interpretations – is a fascinating dissection. It keeps the realms of objectivity shifting between new pieces of evidence and creates a thought-provoking exercise.

Sadly, this intrigue is not sustained throughout, and a certain turning point within the story significantly alters the tone. What begins as an intimate enigma requiring nuance to understand and navigate becomes much more concerned with experimental representations of a broken reality. Elisabeth has a big dramatic moment, uncontrollably laughing at a serious topic for a few minutes straight. It’s a daring choice signifying the switch in cadence, but one that is far less captivating. The tight focus gives way to looser interpretations of what is observed, with hallucinations manifesting while darker secrets come out. Unfortunately, that claustrophobic setting no longer has power and, instead, the pacing turns deadly tedious. This is felt all the way until the finale, which robs the film of any ambiguity the storytelling was expertly playing with before, and leaves an underwhelming emotional catharsis.

Most people will mostly know Reinsve from her breakout turn in “The Worst Person in the World,” and while her performance here doesn’t reach anywhere near the heights of that film, it’s still a good reminder of how powerful a presence she has. She commands every scene with an intensity that projects a resilience but also an easily-showcased vulnerable core. Even when the film becomes lost in its own muddled messaging, her portrayal continually guides one through. The steely resolve embodied by Petersen and Hellestveit are compelling, particularly with the former, who goes through a similar crumbing towards the end. They are the main players, but Thea Lambrechts Vaulen nearly steals the show from all of them. As Sunna, a junior teacher trying hard to maintain the fragile leadership she has cultivated in this setting, she expertly conveys the meek authority figure who unravels with her own self-doubt. It’s a more complex character to portray, and Vaulen does so exceptionally.

What’s most frustrating about “Armand” is how its introduction promises a very alluring set piece that could have led to a much more gripping conversation. In those instances, the film is at its most riveting, with one salivating to the notion to dissect this work for all the complexities to be found. This would have been great, were it not for the abrupt shift in the story that eradicates any interest in that subject and instead becomes a laborious grind. There’s talent here, but their contributions are mostly only appreciated before that dramatic turn. After that, whatever was there to be gained from unearthing this puzzle remains quite muted at its conclusion.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The premise has a very intriguing setup that allows for nuances to be explored in a complicated realm. The atmosphere is thick with tension, and the filmmaking helps craft this aura even more. The performances are all generally captivating.

THE BAD - Has an abrupt shift in tone in the second half that grinds momentum to a halt. The storytelling becomes more tedious, and the explorations are muddled, robbing the complexity of this foundation and becoming one that is lethargic and far less interesting.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best International Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 4/10

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Josh Parham
Josh Parhamhttps://nextbestpicture.com
I love movies so much I evidently hate them. Wants to run a production company.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The premise has a very intriguing setup that allows for nuances to be explored in a complicated realm. The atmosphere is thick with tension, and the filmmaking helps craft this aura even more. The performances are all generally captivating.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Has an abrupt shift in tone in the second half that grinds momentum to a halt. The storytelling becomes more tedious, and the explorations are muddled, robbing the complexity of this foundation and becoming one that is lethargic and far less interesting.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-international-feature/">Best International Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>4/10<br><br>"ARMAND"