Martin is in his mid-30s, married and with a young child, who is caught in the realisation of his potentially mundane life trajectory. In the opening minutes of the film he stares out the window and makes snap judgements about passers-by and their contentment, which only partially explains why Martin finds himself so tongue-tied and uncomfortable around other people. He’s unhappy with his now intimacy-less marriage and his inability to truly engage with his son, instead finding solace in his weekly runs around the mountainside that neighbours his town. This Martin is our entire focus throughout Ole Giæver’s Out of Nature, co-directed with Marte Void. His early mid-life crisis (third-life crisis?) isn’t handled in any innovative way, the framing device serving to explore the specific psyche of its protagonist. Martin, though, played by Giæver himself, is as bland as the tropes the film around him employs.
The film centers on a particular mountainside run, where Martin is driven onwards by his resentment at the other people in his village, who (rightly) assume that he no longer drinks or goes out now that he is a parent. His response is seemingly counterproductive, leaving his family for a weekend not to reform this image of himself but rather to further distance him from everyone else. In this sense, his isolation on the mountain is a form of longform meditation. In his escape he ruminates on the state of his marriage, his childhood, and his future, seeking the true cause of his malaise; rarely does he implicate himself, his self-discovery more indicative of a general lack of self-awareness.
Despite Giæver’s attempts at broad-reaching (and affecting) relatability, Martin comes across as an egotist who fears he’s not looking out for himself enough. We’re privy, or perhaps rather subjected, to his internal monologue, which moves from his initial fears of career and life stasis to sexual fantasies involving various women in his life. Much like Thomas Salvador’s near-vanity project Vincent, so too are the women in this film rendered as objects that circle around the protagonist, with his wife weathering the worst of it, a mind’s eye version of her merely confirms Martin’s wishes about their marriage. In another scene, and one quite pivotal to the little plot there is here, Martin explicitly ignores the heartfelt confession of a much younger woman so as to plan his seduction of her. If it’s a comedic beat, it’s not a particularly funny one; Martin might be a touch dopey (and very dull), but he remains mostly contemptible throughout the course of the film, even moreso in the wake of the film’s conventional and self-congratulatory ending.
Comparisons to Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern’s recent Near Death Experience are somewhat inescapable, not only because the films were released in their respective countries within ten days of one another and seemingly played tag amongst international festivals (the Frenchmen got into Venice, the Nords into TIFF and then the Berlinale). Both are isolationist narratives anchored to the stubborn psyche of one man, which slowly unravels (or does it, really?) over the course of a few days in the wild. Where Out of Nature has Giæver’s own conduit, in NDE we get another hilariously droll performance from Michel Houellebecq, whose voiceover delivery is impeccably timed. The two men have different aims, one wishes to die and the other to start anew, but the ways in which the film that surrounds them probes their own fears and flaws sets them apart. Both films attempt to create an emotional link through contrast, Houellebecq’s witty and brutal self-deprecation occasionally gives way to potent realisation, whereas Out of Nature fumbles between physical comedy (nakedness is the shorthand) and sincere self-awakening, though even in those moments of emotionally clarity we’re faced with simplistic platitudes.
Best in show here undoubtedly goes to cinematographer Øystein Mamen, who once again teams up with Giæver after their 2011 feature The Mountain. The landscape imagery is crisp, the colours vivid, with Mamen doing some really interesting work with reflection of light and reflection in water. The best shot in the film, though, isn’t one focused on the natural landscape, but rather the man-made; a handheld shot during a flashback sequence sees a young Martin stare out the window at night to see the houses over the lake in Tromsø all lit up, the moon reflected in the water below. The use of music is also praiseworthy, though the amusing invocation of “Forever Young” uneasily balances between on-the-nose thematic underlining and self-aware jesting.
There are flashes of complexity here and there, primarily in the brief flashback sequences we see and, strangely, in scenes where Martin comes to a clear realisation about his life and then promptly ignores it. As much as this willful ignorance is a interesting character trait, Martin remains mostly a uncompelling figure to be anchored to for 80 minutes; the film’s indulgence in his dull egotism is what sinks it from the start.