With the likes of Rare Exports and Tokyo Godfathers becoming cult classics around this time of year, and after a handful have cropped up in the past, this year’s Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar focuses solely on foreign language/ non-English Christmas films. Some simply less heard of around the world, and in some cases their home country, while others aren’t deeply rooted in the season. And so, via this year’s Calendar, let’s go abroad for this year’s Christmas vacation.
Today’s calendar ‘door’ jumps back to the theme of family gatherings around the festive season, although in this case, another dramatic viewpoint. Depicting the rising arguments and turmoil in a cramped cabin surrounded by equally growing levels of snow in the aptly titled Cabin Fever (Or Når nettene blir lange, translating to the equally appropriate When The Night’s Get Long).
One of the few films of the Dogme 95 movement, and the only Norwegian film to be classified as such, writer-director Mona J. Hoel’s use of handheld cameras and natural elements throw us right into the centre of the mix as tensions rise between the central extended family cramped into a rented cabin for Christmas. The naturalism heightens the intensity as various secrets and truths are revealed in the rising heat of Christmas Eve, and into the morning of the next day. All spurred by the alcoholism of father Gunnar (Svein Scharffenberg) who begins to dominate the night with his increasingly drunken ramblings and declarations.
His family are used to this behaviour, trying to distract from it – and hide any alcohol on the premises – as much as possible, particularly in the presence of non-Norwegian speaking Danish in-laws who may as well be complete strangers. It’s already a cocktail for confusion, chaos and misunderstandings, the kind which could normally play a part in a comedy, however here it’s played with deadly-serious drama. There may be some mild merriment to begin with as everyone settles in, but once the kids are put to bed everything begins to boil over.
Everyone simply wants a calm, friendly, family Christmas yet it’s clear that there’s distance within that particular family and there’s little that can stop it – not even the usual traditions, some of which come from new heads at the table, carol singers from the neighbouring cabins and a visit from Santa. Much of the night, and flow into the next day, plays out as if one large sequence. Avoiding the feeling it could be played out on a stage thanks to the naturalistic stylings of the aforementioned Dogme 95 movement you’re simply put at the table and made to feel the awkwardness and frustration that circulates faster and faster over time.
Leaking into the next day like a persistent hangover the air is thick with an unspoken lack of festivity, instead coming across in hesitancy and uncertain looks. That is until everything begins to come out once more in a cocktail of panic, relief, fading energy and disconnect – just to name a few of the various feelings flying around the enclosed space. Cabin Fever depicts the definition of a mirthless Christmas, utilising familiar elements, for viewers and the central characters who are forced to confront truths at this reluctant time of year, to create a naturalistic drama with occasional coldness in the depicted relationships to match the snow-covered surroundings.
Cabin Fever can be watched in the following places:
iTunes/ Apple TV
To see other services which might hold the film to by, rent or stream, particularly in other countries, JustWatch should list most available.