Film Notes: And Breathe Normally (2018)

An Icelandic film on refugee struggle that is unique because it brings an evenness of humanity. What’s more, this is one of those rare works where the topic of conversation between two women is not a man. It is a film that passes Bechdel–Wallace test with flying colors.

3.5 out of 4 stars

A Film about Home

In the first few shots of the film, we see a beautiful complex of buildings guarded on one side by majestic mountains. It is a location that is home to many. The mountains signify their sense of security because they have this shelter. The rest of the film is a struggle two women will have in two different ways to find such a shelter.

Lara is a single mother facing extreme financial issues. She is unable to pay the rent of the flat she and her young son lived in. After the landlord drives them away, the family starts living in their small shabby car. The only way Lara can again provide a good shelter for her son is if she is able to secure the job of a border control officer. Thus, she tries her best to perform well at the evaluations and when there is an error in front of her she immediately catches it.

Spotting the fake passport of Adja is one such opportunity for her. She grabs it. But the result of her move does not please her. Adje, a refugee from Guinea-Bissau, is left behind while her child goes off to Canada with her sister. In Iceland, Adja struggles to find shelter. The two women thus are equals on two opposite sides. The way they keep coming across each other appears somewhat contrived. But the relationship they form is uneasy, filled with remorse and pain.

Flight and Freedom

Gradually Lara and Adja do a lot of good for each other. But that is because they understand each other’s pain. Like a calamity after which people naturally come together, the events of the film bring out these women’s virtues. It is the ability of the film to make us empathize with both the worlds that keep us hooked into it till its quite predictable end.

Also, the performances help the sweet ending to be in parity with the harshness shown before. As Adja, Babetida Sadjo gives an amazingly controlled performance that uses only the eyes to express her deep angst. Adja might feel too good a human being. But she is in a world which demands her to prove her goodness. Equally insecure but still within her own territory, Lara showcases shades of a free-spirited bohemian past. Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir brings a perfect balance between aloofness and empathy.

The most interesting scenes of the film show the two women connecting gradually. They talk so that they can understand and empathize with each other’s battles. It is a film that passes Bechdel–Wallace test with flying colors because Adja and Lara never talk about men, but the reality of their situations.

Both of them are looking for freedom. Freedom to express themselves and fly without being judged. This is a world that silences lesbianism and pushes it to the margin. Ísold Uggadóttir understands such discriminations and fights them through her film. In one scene we come across Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner’s book Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada. In another, we see caged animals. Similarly, fences keep playing a recurrent role.

Warmth of Yellow

The filmmaker uses the cold quiet atmosphere of Iceland to signify the unwillingness of people to come close to each other. In the cold weather, the yellow windows of individual homes appear warm. Lara and Adja will not have the pleasure of living in such homes. Throughout the film, they will have to live in shoddy spaces that appear more like cages. The English title of the film symbolizes the sense of claustrophobia arising from such situations.

A home thus signifies much more here. The parting shot of the film has the same two women looking at each other from the two sides of a screen of glass, as if it is the window of a home.

similar:

film notes: the woman in the window (1944)

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