Handle With Care / Hjertestart

What do you do when you feel nothing for your adopted son? That’s the question Handle With Care dares to ask, and the answers it provides will question not only your own parental decisions but that of the main character, Kjetil (Kristoffer Joner). It doesn’t set out to create a comforting, emotionally rewarding journey between Kjetil and his adopted son, Daniel (Kristoffer Bech), but rather forces you to confront your own perceptions of being a parent.

After his wife’s death, Kjetil, an off-shore oil worker, has a hard time relating to his adopted son, Daniel. His actions are highly questionable; he leaves Daniel at school, scolds him for minor issues, and is lazy in comforting him and playing with him. Daniel is clearly affected by it, with his bed wetting and emotional outbursts recurring throughout the film. As the audience, we clearly know this is an awful situation triggered by Kjetil and Daniels’ grief, but it’s hard to offer a solution. Kjetil, disillusioned by grief, decides to take Daniel to Colombia and track down his birth mother. He meets up with the adoption worker who helped him and his wife adopt Daniel, Tavo, and lies his way through the adoption agency to get the birth mother’s contact information. He tells everyone his wife is alive, a sign of his grief, and that he wants to find the mother to see if she has pre-existing medical conditions. In fact, he has this idea that he needs to place Daniel back with his mother now that his adoptive one has died. Throughout the film, we see Kjetil slowly start to abandon Daniel altogether; leaving him with Tavo’s sister, who forms a strong bond with the boy. However, Kjetil is not a terrible father, he’s more complex than that. He panics whenever Daniel is out of his sight and tries to connect with the boy through the sights of Colombia. A shot of the two of them at the top of a mountain highlights this complicated relationship: Kjetil wants to pose for a photo but doesn’t put his arm around Daniel. Rather it is Daniel who has to put his arm around his father. The film reaches a part of the story that is seemingly predictable, though no less tragic, and the ending is (in true Scandinavian fashion) open-ended, allowing you to make your own conclusion about this struggling father/son relationship.

Despite the heavy theme, Handle With Care is a carefully intelligent film. Director Arild Andreson is not a stranger to complex family dramas; his previous work The Orheim Company also tackles a struggling father/son bond. But while that film is set within the confines of a house, Handle With Care is internationally set, with much of the film taking place on location in Colombia. While the film wants to prove that Daniel being adopted to Norway perhaps saved him from a troubled life, the film doesn’t show Colombia in a negative light. It’s a vibrant, energetic, and friendly city almost shot in a way to provide a suitable life to Daniel’s grey, melancholic and dull life in Stavanger. The core of this film is the relationship between the two leading actors. Kristoffer Joner is one of Norway’s most famous actors, and in this film, he doesn’t feel fitting as a fatherly character, though perhaps that’s the point. The young boy, Kristoffer Bech, is incredible and his facial expressions will pull at your heart strings. It’s emotionally heavy but softly told. It will leave you thinking, and that proves that Andreson is a masterful director.

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Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.