As I Fall (Når jeg faller) (2018)

As I Fall (Når jeg faller) first published by EyeforFilm

“I’m ten years old”, says Joachim (Preben Hodneland) at the beginning of Magnus Meyer Arnesen’s As I Fall (Når jeg faller). He patently is not – what we are watching is an adult’s account of a dream to the psychotherapist who is seeing him as part of a drugs recovery programme. In his dream – or nightmare, really – Joachim knocks repeatedly at the window outside his home on his own birthday, but his (late) mother, only inches away on the inside, at first does not notice, and when she finally sees him, disappears in apparent disappointment. Here we see clearly laid out the issues – the sense of failure and abandonment – that have plagued Joachim since childhood, eventually driving him into cycles of addiction. Despite his insistence to counsellors, to his father Sverre (Vidar Sandem) and to his brother Thomas (Morten Svartveit) that he is now clean, Joachim is still using, and caught in a downward spiral of denial, poverty and self-destruction.

If Joachim is still a little boy lost in a man’s body, then this most irresponsible of characters suddenly finds himself responsible for an actual eight-year-old boy. For when Joachim’s ex-girlfriend Maria (Alexandra Gjerpen) is arrested for possession and faces a lengthy sentence, she calls on Joachim to look after her (and his) son Lukas (Marius Aandal Pedersen), whom Joachim does not at all know. As the film traces the evolving relationship between reluctant father and son, it plays a double game, holding out the twin possibilities that Lukas may save Joachim from himself, or that Lukas, similarly separated from his own mother and feeling unwanted, may just be another damaged Joachim in the making. 

This dynamic, and Joachim’s seemingly endless drift between remission and relapse, ensure that the film resists easy sentimentalism or wish fulfilment by constantly frustrating the happy ending towards which it fitfully gropes. As the title suggests, we are with Joachim on a journey of decline – with our hero going downhill both metaphorically and, in the end, literally – and while Arnesen lets this drama unfold in a plain, unfussy style, he adopts an economic film grammar to externalise his protagonist’s ups and downs, tracking Joachim at a high angle when he is out to score (and to get high), and shooting him at a more conventional ground level when he is on a more even keel. Joachim’s life of heroin has been so askew that his television monitor is turned on its side to align with his hours spent lying in a daze on the sofa. When Lukas comes to share his sofa, Joachim returns the TV to its proper position, creating at least a semblance of restored balance – but the future, both for a sensitive young son and for a father arrested in his own childhood trauma, remains to be resolved (or not) somewhere further down the road. 

© Anton Bitel