The Best Days of Our Lives?!

A Review of the Documentary ‘The Stranger’


With her latest film, Nicole Nielsen Horanyi continues to follow her directorial path of making films about strong women as well as human relationships and hardship to touch upon broader societal issues simultaneously. The Stranger (En Fremmed Flytter Ind), screened at Nordisk Panorama, tells the story of Amanda, a single mother from a Copenhagen suburb, by employing the technique of re-enactment. The moments of the past and the present smoothly blend and the feeling of uncertainty, curiosity and excitement is evoked. Although re-enactment has been often utilized in documentaries, either through live-action played by actors, animation or in some other forms, Horanyi empowers the real participants of the events to share their own memories. This particular but somewhat trendy approach nowadays to documentary film-making results in a cautionary tale for everyone regardless of their background.

Despite dealing with a local but high-profile case, The Stranger works on a universal level, benefitting greatly from the viewers’ familiarity with the concept of love (and the romantic comedy and drama genre). As opposed to more traditional re-enactment sequences, the fourth wall has been broken and the audience is addressed directly by the main character throughout the entire documentary – besides narrating her own story as well. The viewers are warned and informed about the nature of the events and about the actor hired to play Amanda’s romantic partner. Every essential detail of their fairy-tale romance is analysed and reflected upon without any judgements, and Amanda is the only one given the opportunity to draw conclusions and contemplate her actions. Reminiscing about her past, she also naturally joins Nielsen Horanyi as a kind of co-director (co-creator) instructing her actor partner.

Due to this core element, the confirmation of crossing the line between past and present must occur continually, which is then backed up with the director stepping into the frame or occasionally seeking for accuracy standing while behind the camera. With the graphics displayed cleverly on the screen, new technologies incorporated impeccably, and its dramaturgy constructed skilfully by reality, these interludes prevent the fairy tale from going too far and dabbling with the genre of drama (or romantic comedy) too much. When this compound stops being in action, the flow is strikingly interrupted, and the intimate tone vanishes immediately. Even the smallest grain of the illusion evaporates into thin air, and the mysterious – fairly miraculous – love story is over…

Horanyi’s directorial choices not only serve to honestly replicate the events but also allow the viewers to fully identify and empathise with Amanda. Yet the epilogue – offering a closure and expanding the frames to embrace the past of Amanda’s partner – feels lengthy to some degree. Essentially, vulnerability, strength, women’s power, as well as honesty and human decency are investigated, and the danger of social media is addressed too. The Stranger stretches the tapestry of the documentary genre, praise self-representation by empowering the real people to tell and present their stories. It could be easily paired up with Marcus Lindeen’s The Raft (Flotten) and compared to Joshua Oppenheimer’s controversial piece entitled The Act of Killing.

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.