Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Wouldn't it be nice to get away from it all? To rest under open skies beside a roaring fire, to shelter under canvas in the unspoiled country, to build a raft and float idly in the sun? Wouldn't it be nice to get away from it all? To flee from the social work department with your adolescent daughter, to escape from the Police who want to talk to you in the course of a murder investigation, to go out into the barely-travelled wilds?

Unfolding slowly, haltingly, an attempt at wilderness idyll punctured bit by bit by circumstance, Sanctuary is an affecting piece. As Hella, Clara Christiansson gives an excellent performance - shuffling from childishness to wilful self-reliance and back again, it's an apt portrait of a difficult age in trying circumstances. As "The Father", Jakob Cedergren runs (sometimes literally) a ragged edge between optimism and despair. Initially a cipher, a haunted figure smoking in the shadows, we gradually learn about him as little Hella grows up in these unnatural circumstances.

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Unnatural socially - there are suspicions, certainly - literally voiced by the social work department, but in beautiful environs. The lake, the forest, even a minor road carved through the dense and wooded land are all beautifully presented.

There are interludes - time passes, arguments are had, it rains and it pours and supplies run out - but for all its lack of rush, its unhurried pace is deliberate, effective, compelling. There are some fascinating sequences, hints of stories untold - dream sequences add to the weight of everything, out here where people do not go. "I wonder if anyone has walked this way before..." ponders Hella, "maybe in the Dark Ages". Removed geographically, the pair are somewhat removed in time - perhaps this is the late Seventies, the early Eighties, as there are clues aplenty - behind them (and beautifully observed) are cans of Fanta, BASF cassette tapes, unloved civil-service Volvos and mid-range hi-fis. Around them are snares, caves, and others watching.

Both Hella and her father have strange encounters, one with civilisation, the other with 'The Lady', a tremendous performance from Gunnel Fred. Fredrik Edfeldt's direction, Karin Arrhenius' script, and Matti Bye's music all combine with the excellent central cast to good effect. Mention must be made of Mattias Montero's work as DoP - this is a film that is worth looking closely at, as everything shows signs of great care and consideration, and Sanctuary is certainly worthy of it.

There's an issue with the title - it's not that 'Sanctuary' isn't apt, but the original title 'Faro' is the one in Portugal - The Father is well-travelled, with a history perhaps more chequered than we have seen, but the notion of a further idyll, another place is important to what the film is trying to do. While there are questions to be asked of the characters, the audience isn't given much room to doubt - that's not to say that this is a cheery jaunt, and perhaps Sanctuary is to be commended for avoiding some of the darkness that could be afforded by its outline. There's no shortage of films about the collapse of new societies, and while the scale is different there's a sense of reality's entropic effect upon any at attempt at utopia that's shared with plenty of them - more Dogville than Soylent Green, admittedly, but it's there. Well-judged, well-constructed, well-acted, this is a story of how Hella and her father try to escape, and it is well worth seeking them out.

Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2013
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A man on the run escapes, along with his daughter, into a dream.

Director: Fredrik Edfeldt

Writer: Karin Arrhenius

Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Clara Christiansson, Maria Heiskanen, Göran Stangertz, Gunnel Fred, Per Burell, Lena Carlsson

Year: 2013

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Sweden

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