Movies about blind women seem to fall into a subgenre all their own, and the overwhelming majority of them (including Wait Until Dark, Julia’s Eyes, The Eye, Blink, South Korea’s Blind) are suspense thrillers. The women are seemingly helpless victims-to-be forced to survive some malevolent outside force threatening their lives.
The new Norwegian film, Blind, has chosen a different route.
Ingrid (Ellen Dorritt Petersen) has recently lost her sight to a degenerative disease, and she has made her apartment the entirety of her new world. Her husband Moreten (Henrik Rafaelsen) is supportive, but she ignores his suggestions that she venture outside again. Her alone time already allows her mind to wander, but it also comes with thoughts on her husband’s infidelity, the lives of strangers, and the distinct sound of breathing in the apartment when she should be alone. But are these things real or imagined?
Ingrid’s daily routine is to sit in a chair by the window and think. We first meet her in darkness with only her voice to guide us. She says she has to constantly picture her memories and surroundings as otherwise they’ll fade without the benefit of new visual stimuli and triggers, and as light begins to fill the screen we see only her hands moving over objects and textures. Soon the breathing starts behind her, someone’s eyes take her in, and while she suspects it’s Morten, there’s no answer when she calls out his name.
Just as we settle in to her story the film shifts to introduce Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt). He lives alone and spends much of his day and night watching online porn. When he does get outside he finds himself staring shyly at the women around him, sometimes following them, sometimes caressing their hair, sometimes imagining a conversation. He’s most enamored with his neighbor across the street, Elin (Vera Vitali), a single mother who he watches through binoculars. She’s recently divorced, and the past few months have shown her that all of her friends in town were actually her husband’s friends and that they no longer have interest or obligation with her.
Ingrid, Einar, and Elin are lonely. There’s a wistful sadness within each of them, and while their individual solitudes are a mix of circumstance and self-isolation they share a fearful melancholy. Ingrid is the source of what we see though, and as she narrates and imagines these other lives we see the details shift and morph before our eyes. Her husband is sending a work email, but in her imagination he’s chatting online with a lover. Elin’s son becomes a daughter. Einar’s sexual fetishes grow stranger and weirder.
The visual style and creative brilliance make the screen come as alive as the worlds behind our own eyelids. It’s an amorphous canvas showing us the real world through Ingrid’s fears, desires, sense of humor, and sexuality. She’s blind, but she’s no less a woman despite her protestations that she’s let herself go since losing her sight. The film, her story, is a very sexual one because it’s also a very honest one.
Writer/director Eskil Vogt co-wrote both of Joachim Trier’s films, Reprise and Oslo August 31st, so it comes as no surprise that his directorial debut is such an effortlessly beautiful and touching film. Even beyond or without the visual techniques on display though the movie presents an intimate look into a life the likes of which most of us will never know first-hand. It’s as if we’re peeking behind the curtain of someone’s unaware mind, and they don’t know enough to be embarrassed, ashamed, or upset.
Petersen gives an incredibly open and brave performance, both emotionally and physically, and you can’t help but follow the journey wherever it takes her. The others are equally as strong in their supporting turns, with Kolbenstvedt deserving special mention in his debut before the camera. Einar could have very easily been little more than a creepy pervert, but Kolbenstvedt’s expressions betray a deep and hopeful sadness that makes him more sympathetic than pitiful.
Blind is a rare combination of heart and brains, creativity and wit, and it will make you feel things. Just what those things are is anyone’s guess, so make sure you’re in a safe, adult place when watching.
The Upside: Smart, creative, funny, sexy, suspenseful; engenders empathy through visuals; rewards attentive viewers
The Downside: Would earn NC-17 or will need to be trimmed for U.S. audiences; sexual material may be excessive for some viewers
On the Side: IMDB’s only piece of info/trivia on Eskil Vogt is “Ancient student at La Femis (15e promotion).” I do not know what this means.