Norway and England, worlds apart, represent different states of mind in Aberdeen, Hans Petter Moland’s harsh but strangely lyrical drama of family and addiction. Stellan Skarsgard stars as Thomas, the long-lost, alcoholic father of Kaisa (Lena Headey), a stylish, irritable London-based lawyer with perpetually unkempt hair and a heavy coke habit. One morning her mother, Helen (Charlotte Rampling), phones from Scotland, asking her to find Thomas in some dumpy Oslo bar and bring him to Aberdeen. She says it’s because he’s ready for rehab; in fact, she’s dying and wants to reunite the two. But the 250-pound lush proves too much for Kaisa to handle; for help on the road, she turns to Clive (Ian Hart), a sweet-faced truck driver.
The near-perfect cast has talent to burn. Headey growls her way through a bitter role as Skarsgard sulks and mumbles and Hart does his best to charm her. Rampling gives a performance that’s both sharp and understated, but her character’s relation to her daughter remains a question mark. Moland cowrote the script, which relies a bit too often on forced dialogue and improbable changes in character. A falling-down-drunk father doesn’t need to ask his daughter, “What did I do wrong?” And too many lines are just plain predictable. (Mother to daughter re father: “You’re all he’s got.”)
Yet Aberdeen‘s images are ravishing. Moland and director of photography Philip Ogaard make the most of the long Nordic twilights and vast, lunar vistas, where reindeer suddenly appear on the icy blue horizon. They never use landscape for merely picturesque effects. Instead, Norway’s hallucinatory, edge-of-the-world beauty imbues the story with a woozy, alcoholic haze and a sense of the marginal spaces into which the messiest aspects of private life are shoved. In England’s green and pleasant land, Thomas seems even more of a loser, his untoward gestures and outsize appetites an affront to the middle-class ethos of reserve and dignity. In fact, this father-daughter couple are most comfortable at sea, where the oil rigs Thomas worked on years ago burn brightly in the night like luminous sprites, urging them into the swamps of remembrance.
Something lured Paul Cox down memory lane, but he should have stayed at home. Innocence, his new film, shot in Belgium and Australia, reminds us that past loves, like sleeping dogs, are best left alone. Andreas (Charles Tingwell), a retired organist and music teacher, loved Claire (Julia Blake) half a century ago in postwar Belgium. Suddenly, he writes her a letter, they’re reunited, and sparks fly, despite her 40-year marriage to John (Terry Norris).
In flashbacks, we see young Andreas and Claire making out on riverbanks and train platforms, but we never learn much about them. In the present, when not holding hands or reciting French poetry to each other, they’re spouting psychobabble. People say things like “Goodness never dies” and “It’s now that matters.” Norris, as the bruised husband, provides a salutary note of darkly comic rancor, and the film’s exploration of elderly sensuality is courageous. But it mostly proves that lovers in old age can be as cloying and narcissistic as they are in youth.