Alice (Ane Dahl Torp), recently divorced from her husband Mattias (Sverrir Gudnason), receives a crying late-night call from her young son Vincent (Troy Lundkvist). Concerned for his welfare, and that of his teenage sister Elina (Tintin Poggats Sarri), Alice kidnaps both children and flees the country.
It has been a long time between drinks, as they say, with a global coronavirus outbreak shutting down cinemas and film festivals and leaving movie fans with very little in the way of new features to watch. With some of those cancelled festivals now shifting online, it seems the tap of fresh content has been opened a little. This year’s Sydney Film Festival is presenting a range of new European films directed by women, available to watch in the comfort of one’s own home via video-on-demand. In these uncertain times, a supply of engaging new film works seems an absolute godsend.
Charter is the second feature from Swedish director Amanda Kernell, and follows her critically acclaimed 2016 debut Sami Blood. It follows a child kidnapping – always fodder for a thrilling narrative – but subverts expectations by siding emotionally with the kidnapper. The entire films rises and falls on the back of Ane Dahl Torp’s lead performance. Alice is visibly troubled, and clearly in the wrong in stealing away her children, and yet it is such a seductive experience to side with her in taking them away from their impassive father and all of the way to Tenerife. Torp makes the character immediately likeable, and sympathetic, and despite her immense personal flaws leads one to wish her the greatest of success: safeguarding her children, breaking through with them emotionally, and keeping them close to her heart.
There is a heady edge of menace to the affair, because what Alice is doing is deeply illegal and comes at the worst possible time in her custody battle for the children. A mystery hovers over why Vincent telephoned her late at night, as well as over whether or not Elina – older and much wiser – will either run away or warn her father of where she has been taken. The cumulative stress of the kidnapping ruins what Alice expects to be a giddy holiday, of course, and each member of the runaway triangle contributes their own poor decision-making to a growing disaster.
The performances are superb, including great juvenile turns by Troy Lundkvist and Tintin Poggats Sarri. It is remarkable how much warmth is generated by these characters, despite the over-arching menace of an unsustainable situation. They are people well worth spending time with on screen.
The film is deftly shot and coloured, with strong cinematography by Sophia Olsson. It brings a strong sense of place and an immediacy that keeps the story barrelling along. It is a superbly ambivalent work, refusing to allow anyone to come across as too upright or villainous. Instead emotions are messy, responses complex, and the protagonists – all of them – deeply flawed. If only more films could be so refreshingly complicated.
2020 has been a hard year for movie-goers, but with the opportunity to see fresh contemporary cinema in the home coming more frequently the second half seems much more promising than the first. Charter is one of the year’s first knockout features.
Charter is available to rent from the Sydney Film Festival here.