Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

"Confidently slow burning and comfortable with moving at its own speed."

The connection formed between teenager Sara (Annika Nuka Mathiassen) and new teacher Karen (Sofia Nolsø) is the basis of Anna Sofie Hartmann's directorial debut. More unusually, Limbo acknowledges that the bonds between student and teacher flow in both directions - neither is left unchanged by their interactions. What develops is a character study of both women.

Sara is part of a close knit group of friends but also instinctively an outsider - framed observing others as often as participating within the group - who yearns to leave the place where she has grown up. The new incomer sends a ripple across the placidity of her life. Karen is more definitively an outsider in this small Danish port town - she is newly arrived from the Faroe Islands - which makes her somewhat exotic ("too feminist" in the eyes of Sara's best pal, Rikke (Sarai Randzorff)) and a source of fascination for her students (she is amused to learn from Sara that they have been talking about her).

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She also stands as a representation of Sara's potential, of who she could grow up to be - Hartmann draws parallels between them, for example the same two men (apprentices at the local distillery) chat to each woman on separate occasions in the bar, with both women responding with polite tolerance. In experiencing this connection of sameness and difference - neatly illustrated during a mirror exercise in the drama class where Sara breaks from the expected script - Sara grows quietly infatuated with the inspirational teacher.

Hartmann grounds her film in quotidian experience and a specific location (actually the director's home town). The camera frequently roams beyond the 'action' of a scene in order to capture parallel events at the margins - a conversation between a barmaid and an unseen customer, kids milling around in school corridors, or the chat amongst kitchen staff in the fast food joint that Sara and her friends are eating in - which expand the world onscreen beyond the focus of Limbo's protagonists and give a 'lived in' and rounded feel to the film. Likewise the industrial background of the place is emphasised through the attention paid to the harvesting of crops and the large distillery - the sense of confinement or the limitations offered by such an environment are indicated in the way Sara cycles along the docks or around the car parks of industrial estates (i.e. there is always a limit to where she can go - and she often rides in looping circles). The limbo of the title is as much a reference to this nowheresville location as the young woman in the state of being on the cusp of adulthood.

Hartmann looks into the teenage world and recognises and records the apparently inconsequential moments and asides that can fill a life and shape the adult that those young people become. If some of the texts discussed in class are a little on-the-nose in pointing to the barriers faced by a lively and intelligent young women - rehearsals of Antigone open the film and Ibsen's A Doll's House is mentioned later - the discussions are nonetheless impressively naturalistic, with the participants engaging in unselfconscious debate around gender stereotypes and questions of art and representation. The film is confidently slow burning and comfortable with moving at its own speed - in certain sequences the camera glides along, happy to let Sara move in and out of frame rather than keeping pace with her - as it draws the viewer into a carefully considered world. Nominated for the Prix Fipresci European Discovery Award at the forthcoming European Film Awards, Limbo's skilled balance between the strong sense of place and the attention paid to character points to Hartmann as a name to watch out for in the future.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2015
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Limbo packshot
A connection grows between a teenager and a newly arrived teacher.

Director: Anna Sofie Hartmann

Writer: Anna Sofie Hartmann

Starring: Annika Nuka Mathiassen, Sofia Nolsø, Laura Gustavsen, Sarai Randzorff, Sabine Madsen, Matthias Arid Olsen, Mike Hansen, Filip Rasmussen, Morten Klode, Agga Raahaug

Year: 2014

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Germany


SSFF 2014

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