“Unknown Landscapes” by Silje Evensmo Jacobsen is poignant and warm – Dagsavisen

“Unknown Landscapes” by Silje Evensmo Jacobsen is poignant and warm – Dagsavisen



“Unknown landscape”

Director: Silje Evensmo Jacobsen

Norway – 2024

“Mom, I found a little poop!!” That's one of the first things we hear in this heartwarming and sometimes downright poignant documentary by director Silje Evensmo Jacobsen, which earlier this year won the Best Foreign Documentary award at Sundance. It was presented under the title “A New Kind of Wilderness.” The mother turned out to be Maria Gross-Fatney, who had moved to a farm outside Kongsberg with her British husband, Nick, four children, and a menagerie of animals. Maria introduces herself as a “mother of four, photographer, and very passionate about nature,” and documents pastoral rural life on the blog Wildandfree.no.

The family has created their own utopia in harmony with nature, where they grow their own food and try to do as little harm to our planet as possible. The children are educated at home, describe school as a “prison” and spend most of their time outside in the wilderness. They have grown up in a world completely devoid of social media, streaming, PlayStation, mobile phones and television, which seems unbelievable in these times. For us outsiders, it may seem a bit embarrassing to see young children wreaking havoc with sharp axes and knives and climbing trees, but they have created a reality that suits them. A bit like Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, but with less emphasis on the end of the world.

Even those of us who don't have a lot of patience to begin with for the lascivious lifestyles, shaman drums and organically grown hemp slippers have to admit that they seem to be living enviably idyllic lives, and that the kids seem to be having a wonderful time. But nature can be cruel, and in 2019 Mother Maria died of cancer. “Unknown Landscapes” spares us from participating in the course of the disease, which is depicted only in the form of Maria Gross-Vatne's own photographs.

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One moment my mother is there, full of life, and then she is gone. Maria was the active center of gravity in the family, and now they all had to carry on on their own. Nick must deal with grief while suddenly becoming the sole provider for three children. Maria's eldest daughter, Ronja, from a previous relationship, has moved back in with her father and is still in pain. She is a sensitive soul who cannot quite talk about loss, withdraws and has little contact with younger siblings Freya, Ulf and Falk. He shaves his head like my mother did when she was undergoing chemotherapy. Little sister Freya says she's afraid Daddy will never be happy again, and that fear doesn't seem entirely unfounded. Nick is an endlessly kind and patient father, but he naturally seems exhausted, exhausted, and overwhelmed with grief. He is not sure if raising children isolated from the society around them is the right choice.

“Am I doing something terrible that they'll blame me for later?” Nick considers it a personal defeat to be unable to do everything for his children on his own, and their life situation now is completely different. The family could still afford Maria's stint as a photographer, but she now lived on bare land. Nick has no choice but to sell the farm, and this realization is the moment we see him break down in desperate tears. The children have lived here all their lives, but now that life is over. Maria's motto was “We want to be free, independent and full of love,” but capitalism enslaves us all. They must pack everything they own into Biltima cardboard boxes and move to a small house in Po. So at least it's not cramped housing in Rumsas, or something. After all, it could have been a lot worse, but Nick's dad has to find a job.

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Unknown landscape

He's right back in the rat race he fought so hard to avoid. Yngstemann Ulv is sent to kindergarten, while the older siblings are reluctantly sent to school three times a week. Nick seems very disturbed by what this lifestyle change could do to the family, and certainly doesn't like that Freja comes home from school with her homework on her iPad, or that the teacher encourages her to download the NRK Super app so she can watch the TV series. The modern world is about to infect their hermetic existence. Nick would prefer to return to his father in the countryside in England, but the question is whether that would be too much of a disruption for the children. From time to time we see glimpses of the time when Mother Maria was still present, and her notes from the mummy blog are dramatized by actor Siu Loran.

A film novice, Celie Evensmo Jacobsen finds an everyday story poignant and powerful enough to serve as the basis for a feature film, and she handles these difficult topics with tremendous sensitivity. Following sad children closely with a camera is a very delicate situation, but she is very good at avoiding being intrusive in their lives, or drawing attention to herself. Instead, we feel like we are following this family through a difficult time with massive upheaval, with no direction other than dramatization. Jacobsen also manages to capture the small moments that really tell us what's going on in the heads of the family members, who are saying what they can't express themselves.

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Since this is a documentary, things could go in any direction, but even if the starting point is painful, the “unknown landscape” thankfully becomes very optimistic: where everything works out and the family emerges stronger from adversity. It's not always like this, but life goes on anyway. I can easily imagine that this movie could make things a little easier for those who themselves are dealing with grief after losing someone.

Ashura Okorie

Ashura Okorie

"Infuriatingly humble web fan. Writer. Alcohol geek. Passionate explorer. Evil problem solver. Incurable zombie expert."

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