A Norwegian coming-of-age film set in the 1950s, director Berit Nesheim's The Other Side of Sunday initially comes across as a bit of Bergman-lite. We have the corrosively strict Northern Protestantism, a doubting protagonist twining her metaphysical tendrils toward atheism and a man of God who himself cannot live up to his faith's unrelenting tenets -- but all overlaid with a lyrical gaze worlds away from Ingmar's doomy stare.
Young Maria (Marie Theisen) is the doubter in question and the imperfect pastor (Bjørn Sundquist) is her father. Maria is preoccupied with thoughts of sex, displaying an impious interest in the "Song of Solomon," feeling drawn to the company of her more secular peers, who spend much of their time hanging out at the local café, smoking cigarettes, drinking Cokes and listening to Pat Boone records. Understandably, her father considers this the devil's lair.
Maria is also attracted to the church organist, Mrs. Tunheim (Hildegun Riise), whom she suspects, rightly, of being a kindred spirit. Here is someone she can confide in as well as someone who can serve as a negative role model -- a vivacious woman who feels that life has passed her by and who constantly tells Maria that one should always do what one wants, a major heresy in their little church circle.
This is familiar material and one is not encouraged by the fact that Sunday was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film -- such selections tend to be drearily conventional -- but Nesheim's generous indulgence of the charismatic Theisen makes it more memorable than most such tales of restless youth. And when the story finally takes a tragic turn, it's earned the viewer's saddened response.
Conventional, perhaps, but never dreary, it's an anti-clerical film that's on the side of the angels.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].