Vicky Krieps impresses yet again, here playing a woman in her early 30s suffering from a likely fatal condition who travels from France to the fjords of Norway to try to come to terms with her unfair lot in life. It’s an entirely respectable and honorable piece about facing your own demise far before your expected time, but still the kind of thing most people would rather not think about.
In Europe in particular, the film will be remembered as the last feature to star the popular French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who died in a skiing accident on January 19. He had also played the young Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising as well as the title character in the biopic Saint Laurent. The spectre of death sadly hangs over this film even more than it was supposed to.
Every element in Atef’s fifth feature is clear, pristine, civilized and well thought through. Helen’s lung ailment is very serious, and could possibly be best be dealt with via a double lung transplant — not an easy matter to arrange and far from guaranteed to succeed.
Afraid and uncertain, she’s annoyed by some of her boyfriend Mathieu’s argumentative reactions and outbursts; in a long intimate scene, she initiates foreplay and wants to make love but is suddenly and alarmingly overcome by a violent coughing fit. Things don’t look good and Mathieu is not always sensitive to Helen’s needs and severely fluctuating moods.
From the outset, it’s clear that Atef means to take her own sweet time with this drama, which is characterized by its frequently changing moods, the proximity of medical calamity and the challenge for a young couple to be effectively in synch when one is on the brink of death. The director means to immerse you in the great difficulty of facing such a predicament, both for the victim and for a young, healthy mate who understandably doesn’t know how to handle the challenge of looking over a cliff and peering into the abyss.
Mathieu, who in all ways seems less mature than Helen, can be annoying in his argumentative responses to some of her attitudes and needs, so it isn’t entirely surprising that, after rejecting any immediate and radical medical treatment, she abruptly decides to go to a remote part of Norway to decompress and ponder her condition on her own. Resignedly, she concludes, “I don’t have a future anymore.”
If solitary escape to the edge of the world is what she’s looking for, Helen finds it in the right spot — a secluded fjord on the Norwegian coast that looks like it hasn’t been visited by outsiders since World War II. The hut she’s somehow found to stay in at Dalvsfiord more resembles a cave, there’s no wi-fi, the water remains frigid in mid-summer and the sun comes up before 4:30am in summer.
The only local in evidence, a gruffly engaging older-timer (Bjorn Floberg), helps her out when needed and brings some welcome humor to the table. But just when you think this solitary time will provide the reflective period Helen seems to crave to come to terms with her fate, Mathieu turns up. A slow-building and protracted lovemaking scene provides a catalyst for the couple to connect again, and the film is basically wordless for the last 20 minutes or so.
More Than Ever is both somewhat annoying for all the arguing that persists, but is also alert to the many dynamics that flow from a turbulent situation that is deeply grievous and provokes situations no one can really be prepared to confront. As ever, Krieps is wonderful to watch at all times as a woman experiencing a grievous dilemma you might not even wish on your worst enemy.
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