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LONDON 2017

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Going West: Let others in, and let your true self out

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- Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken’s new effort, screening at London, is a heart-warming family adventure that celebrates the importance of being allowed to be oneself

Going West: Let others in, and let your true self out

Going West by Norwegian filmmaker Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken, now screening at the BFI London Film Festival, begins with a montage of 1980s home videos, alternating with images of a young man in a ballerina costume, who dances frenetically to a mellow ballad, thus setting the tone for the film: nostalgic, humorous and wildly unconventional. 

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Kasper (Benjamin Helstad) is a young music teacher who loses his job at a primary school owing to his irresponsible drinking habits. As he is being fired, he receives a drunken call for help from his father Nils (played by Reidar Sørensen), who finds himself in a similarly sorrowful situation. Nils has been unable to leave his flat since his wife Irene (Birgitte Victoria Svendsen) passed away eight months ago. Kasper and his father have struggled to connect since then, but they unexpectedly find a bond in their grief when Nils decides to accept an invitation, addressed to Irene, to participate in an annual quilting contest that takes place on a remote lighthouse island. Spurred on by a promise made to his mother, who implored him to take care of his dad and do fun things with him once she was gone, Kasper reluctantly agrees to join Nils on this impromptu trip destined to pay homage to his mother and her lifelong passion for quilting.

Father and son hit the road on a rusty motorbike and sidecar, with Nils openly and nonchalantly embracing his long-concealed practice of cross-dressing. With a dash of humour, a wistful undertone and familiar upbeat road-movie tunes, director Dahlsbakken explores this peculiar father-son relationship and the effect that their heartfelt dedication to their mission has on those they meet along the way. Going West offers a glimpse at Norway’s alluring scenery, but chooses to concentrate on its inhabitants, the faces and the stories they come across while on the road. When their mode of transport breaks down, an old girlfriend from Nils’ past fortuitously finds them and takes them to her farm, where she lives with her husband, who suffers from tetraplegia. Nils and Kasper manage to warm the initially callous husband’s heart, and he offers them his old Jaguar to continue their travels. He warns them to handle the car with care, as sometimes “what’s inside comes out, and things outside come in” – a metaphor for the life-changing experiences they are about to encounter en route. Through this spontaneous little adventure, Nils and Kasper will learn to allow themselves to let others in, and to let their true selves out.

Going West is traditional in its structure, yet atypical in its unsentimental portrayal of the main characters. Sørensen gives an outstanding performance as Nils, never allowing his character to become a parody of a cross-dressing middle-aged man by delicately navigating the tricky territory between deadpan humour and pathos. Out-of-the-ordinary situations are treated with casual playfulness, while everyday little tragedies are given an endearing attention. The result is a captivating family road movie, in which the protagonists’ objective ceases to matter – it’s who they share their journey with that does. 

Going West was produced by FilmBros. It is being sold by Denmark’s LevelK.

Our 61st BFI London Film Festival coverage is run in collaboration with the UK National Film and Television School's MA in Film Studies, Programming and Curation.

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