JWR Articles: Film/DVD - The Art of Negative Thinking (Director: Bård Breien) - January 9, 2008
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The Art of Negative Thinking

Kunsten å tenke negativt

4.5 4.5
79 min.

Reviewed at the 2008 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Thinking without the box

Finally, a film about disabilities (real and imagined) whose characters pull no punches and land a few hits of their own on unexpected targets. A viewing should become part of the standard discharge plan—potentially reducing the horrific separation/divorce statistics for millions whose lives have been turned upside down in a split second.

Geirr (brilliantly rendered by Fridtjov Shåeim)—paralyzed and impotent; rich and married; angry and reclusive; boozer and pothead—is slipping further into the abyss every day.

Desperate wife, Ingvild (heroically played by Kirsti Eline Torhaug) calls in Tori, (Kjersti Holmen) the expert therapist, whose healing techniques revolve around group therapy (and a soon-to-be-published dissertation on her brilliance). Typical sessions include asking the faithful to enumerate their problems to a crocheted “shit bag,” their mentor revealing her clients’ secrets to all and, especially, asking her battered troupe to imagine a happier, goal-driven future and so spurning the selfish culture of negativity for a more positive outlook: “Small changes lead to big changes.”

So the miracle worker and four of her current charges push their way into Geirr’s life in evidence-based hopes of improving his and Ingvild’s just as theirs have been.

Marte (like Geirr, similarly paralyzed—and with a perpetual smile that defies her immobility—is rendered with gusto by Marian Saastad Ottesen who also stars in Gone With the Womancross-reference below) and husband Gard (Henrik Mestad), whose negligence caused her accident, but even that tragedy hasn’t curbed his wandering hands and “pussy-smell fingers,” seem to be dealing well with their new world. Asbjørn (Per Schanning) is also wheelchair-bound but—in a refreshingly honest portrayal of those living with the effects of Acquired Brain Injury some of whose symptoms include disinhibition—grabs at any breast within his reach and appears to be vegetative. Rounding out the group is Lillemor (done up with shameless courage by Kari Simonsen)—a family disowned old doll who wears her neck brace like a badge of honour. She’s not as “visible” as her wheeled colleagues but needs something obvious to demonstrate to everyone her need for comfort and pity.

Eventually, Tori succeeds in bringing the Johnny Cash/Apocalypse Now devotee into the circle of her troubled souls, but is entirely unprepared for his physical and mental push-backs. Tellingly, she is forced to confront her own negativity (unexpectedly spewing forth what she really thinks about her devoted subjects) and is sent packing after democracy rules. Similarly, fully-functioning Gard and Ingvild are also banished (the vote for “those without problems to leave” is a landslide victory for the infirm).

From there, the film soars (and evokes some uncomfortable moments as witness the many nervous laughs from the crowd in all of the wrong places). The injured quartet parties hardily then wrecks the living room while—simultaneously—building up their self-esteem (with near-biblical results as the “dumb” finally speak).

Director/writer Bård Breien’s script is so honest that it almost hurts: too much truth floods the screen. It’s a compendium of lines, situations and reactions that remain largely unsaid, acknowledged or felt in the real-life experiences of the disabled. But, there is no doubt that anyone who has been on either side of the survivor/caregiver divide will come away with at least one moment of “just like me.”

Hopefully, from that revelation, the first step towards the banishment of one’s own long-repressed feelings of negative thinking might be taken. JWR

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