I saw a movie the other night, “Barn”, Children, by the Norwegian director Dag Johan Haugerud.
I can truly say that in many ways I have never seen a more unrealistic Norwegian film, both the environment and the characters are, if my experience as a teacher is worth anything, pretty far out as a description of a school and its inhabitants.
I would like to send my congratulations to the ones who have instructed the actors, though, because for the first time I see my friends and colleagues, a familiar environment to me, represented on film in a pretty realistic way when it comes to both verbal language and body language.
But the trouble is the story, how they think, what they actually say.
The setting is a school somewhere in Oslo or one of its suburbs, the filming has been done in the city and close to it. Two kids of 13 quarrel, and the girl actually kills the boy with her sack by hitting him.
In itself not a very realistic story so far here in Norway, even though probably some people fear something like this is going to happen, after reading about school shootings in the USA. I still think Norway is a much calmer place in many respects, but the talk these days is loud.
The father of the boy is what we call a populist, Progress Party (FrP) politician, and I believe the headmaster of the school is a social democrat. They have a secret relationship, and the headmaster chooses to keep this a secret even after the boy’s death, until it can no longer be hidden.
This is just one of the things that seems to me wildy unrealistic: Not to say anything when actually your boyfriend’s son is killed on your school – I simply don’t think it would happen. It would be one of the first things in the mind of a headmaster or a teacher if such a thing should be happening.
Practically all reactions from teachers in the film are what you could call too nice, even sloppy, in dramatic and really demanding situations. The film smells all the way of those comments or reactions to what outsiders think is a lack of ability to give rules, set borders, etc, basically the call for discipline, another thing which I would believe still looks very different from the inside of a classroom and the outside.
To become a teacher and survive as one you have to not only address this question, but you have to solve it, in your own way, there is no way around this and has never been. Of course there are natural talents here as everywhere else, I have met people who do it naturally and claim they didn’t have to work for it, but normally you start in chaos and have to establish order in your own way. If you can’t manage this I think you normally leave the profession, it is too difficult and unpleasant to go on working if you don’t fix it.
But there is a generation gap and different ways of thinking about this. A big issue in itself, but not one with an easy solution.
You could maybe say that all the lines in the dialogues could in themselves happen, be seen as realistic, but put together in the way that it is done it loses the main point. No school would react as feeble and both unresponsive and unresponsible as is the picture here. A lot of important discussions stops just before a crucial point is about to emerge, before one really goes into matters, because, either the headmaster have to run to some administrative appointment or write a report, or the colleagues and friends are too shallow and unrealistic to actually tackle the problems at hand. They stop at the worry level.
Many of characters are unusually neatly drawn for a Norwegian film, but what they actually say is one-sided or as I said, downright unrealistic, seen as a whole.
Eastside-westside is an obvious theme in the film too, but the differences between those two sides of the city are not very clearly delineated.
This can very often be the case in everyday life in Oslo too, but even if the two parts of town is merging, the line between upper and working class is still not gone, and this story is confusing some things which can be seen and understood as separate phenomenons, which they still are to a certain extent, and historically it was definitely so.
Maybe I don’t know the east side if the city well enough, but some of the dialogues seems too much likeWest End to be realistically East End dialogues to me, maybe because of the background and the education of at least some of the actors, I don’t know. Maybe this is the whole problem.
But it is sometimes a confusing mix.
Basically I don’t believe that any Norwegian school, or maybe any school, would react both so almost unemotionally and so feeble to a kid being killed by another kid at school. That the father was contacted only after several days, both by the school and the parents of the girl is not to believe.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I have been teaching in both a vocational school with basically eastside kids, and a very oldfashioned (and nice) school with an overweight of west end kids.
I feel the whole story ends up practically as a lie, not least because the character drawings for once are very professionally done. I do not claim that this is the intention, absolutely not, but the effect in my mind.
It seems too much based on official, newspaper versions of school dramas, and I believe that as in any other profession, some things may be hidden in everyday life to give oneself the possibility to work, and many discussions in public are also very often going to unrealistic places because of the heat of an argument.
The least realistic person on the screen is actually the father of the boy, a shallow and hero-like character which I have never met the like of in Progress Party circles. Their biggest problem is, I think, too strict upringing and too much humbleness, but in my experience it comes out more in politics these days, on a friendly level they are to me often very sympathetic and fun, but there may be professional problems among them because as I saidtoo much humbleness, especially towards theoretical education. Status and confidence are central problems, the feeling of too little of both, and professionally at least more than privately.
It is maybe not fair to talk about a group, sociologically, like this in public, but it is an issue which has to be addressed, and a film is also a natural place to do it.
This film is also full of accusations of condescending attitudes towards the FrP-politician from the teachers, which mostly stand uncommented. Although this absolutely exists in real life, it goes both ways, and I feel everyone is trying to behave and go big rounds with temselves to be accepting even to unrealistic comments and demands.
In one of the scenes the father is presented in a way that is not far from propaganda, he reminds me of the picture drawn of Norwegian resistance heroes from the war, which has also been psychologically mainly uninteresting and one-sided on the screen.
The truth behind both types, in life, is psychologically much more complicated than both what has been shown in recent Norwegian films.
It is definitely a good thing that the issues are presented on film in a serious way, the conflict between education and “the school of life”. I look forward to the next time I see this done, but hopefully less full of suspicion, and actually giving a fuller picture of what goes on both in the common rooms in schools and in teachers’ minds, and in the minds of what is called populist politicians, which I suspect is as usual both simpler and more complicated when you get down to what is really cooking and what is actually the basis of problems and conflicts.
I hope we are on the way to normal communication and conflict solving also along these lines, and film is certainly a media suited for getting there.
But this film goes only half the distance in presenting the teachers and their workplace, and hardly starts on creating a realistic and interesting view of this politician’s world.
The story about the kid is also very much simplifying things, and I think brutalising something that is not obviuos, when the real explanation to why she killed her mate is some comment on her shoes that he made, or something similar. And the explanation to this is a couple where the mother gets into a fit, after the killing, towards her daugher, and tears off her headset because the girl sits in her bed and listens to Justin Bieber, for Chrissake, which is so forbidden in the mother’s mind. The father cannot even start to discuss the question of guilt, he excuses the daughter from the start practically to the end.
It is too stupid to be believed.
This part of the story, the killing, which is supposed to carry much of the drama, is taken from a granny’s unrealistic and bad dreams, not from the real life of a teenager. It probably exist bad feelings of this kind, when the talk comes to fashion, style and popularity, but as usual, sorry, as what you so often read in the newspapers, the focus seems all wrong, it is what it looks like if the 13-old thought and lived like her granny, which I think everybody by now should realise is not the case. To understand the next generation is not as easy as that.
It would be almost interesting, but very cruel, to see what the film actually goes a long way in suggesting, that a 13-year old is really evil, actually she starts to look like the main character in All about Eve.
That’s almost where the director is going.