“Empire North”

“Empire North”

There is a stereotype about Scandinavian cinema. Many in the west poke fun at its distinctively artsy, ed existential approach to film. I don’t think that stereotype is completely warranted. I’ve seen some pretty conventional Scandinavian films in my time. But, gonorrhea the Danish documentary, anesthetist “Empire North”, if nothing else, will contribute to the stereotype.

This documentary, if you can call it that, starts with an impoverished cartoonist, Jakob Boeskov, and his girlfriend talking about how poor they are. And yet we see that they are happy and in love. The next thing we know Jakob has a bright idea…create a piece of technology that doesn’t exist and then try to pass it off as real. So, he creates the “ID Sniper Rifle” (used to inject people with a GPS tracking chip) and takes it to an international weapon’s convention in Qatar. It’s an experiment attempting to dissolve the line between art and life, fact and fiction, persona and alter-ego. Sounds great, right?! Wrong.

This film was awful. Slow, boring, confused, sloppy. “Empire North” has a promising premise and the plot summary in the hotdocs brochure was certainly intriguing. But the execution and conclusion of this experiment (and it is, indeed, an experiment) was flat and pointless. For starters, Jakob’s motivation for attempting this Michael Moore-esque trick is unclear and weak. Next, he creates this alter-ego, Hendrik Höfgen. He dyes his hair blonde, puts on a pair of glasses and a suit. Apparently this is sufficient for him to feel as though he is embodying a new and completely different character. The development of his alter-ego is nearly nil. And since we hardly have a sense of who Jakob is, it makes the contrast even less convincing.

As his ruse unfolds, we see Jakob’s plan to fool everyone turn inwards and he begins to lose his sense of self. His he Jakob or is he Hendrik? What is pretend and what is real!? Gasp…that was predictable. But even worse, there is no resolve. As the film ends we don’t know what has happened to Jakob’s internal struggle. Does he completely lose himself? Or does he find some balance between his personas? What about the outcome of his experiment? How far did he take it? No answers to any of these questions. It’s as if the film just stops in the middle of the story.

“Empire North”, with a running-time of 58 minutes, will not likely end up on DVD in Canada anytime soon. Nor, I imagine, will you find it in the Netflix catalogue in the future. But if, by some fluke, it does cross your path and you find yourself intrigued with its description, as I was, I strongly urge you to head south and avoid this Scandinavian time-waster.

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Craig the Critic

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