Dealing with the most sombre and delicate issues requires exceptional insight, vision and balance from filmmakers. This decade, pedophilia has been frequently portrayed on film, but unfortunately not as frequently discussed. American films such as The Woodsman and Hard Candy have both shown either a biased approach or a lack of knowledge in their approaches. This is where Erik Richter Strand's feature film debut, Sønner, differs and, ultimately, stands out.
The strength of Sønner is basically threefold. Firstly, it is a remarkable well-written, tightly directed and harrowingly acted human drama. With a number of both thematic and narratively important characters, the film is able to deploy a number of angles to its story through the different people. And the way Richter Strand conveys these different angles is at times masterful. Secondly, the film has pace, edge and suspense. It is constantly engaging, borrowing constructive devices from the thriller genre without letting this compromise the film's objective. Finally, and most importantly, this is a film conducted with enormous amounts of insight, and with an agenda that is multilateral. It is intellectually stimulating to finally see a film dealing with an issue as controversial as this and still not feeling like you've seen a Leni Riefenstahl-film when the end credits appear.
Screenwriter Thomas Torjussen won awards for his story even before the film had begun shooting. In the end, his is the greatest achievement of Sønner. Director Richter Strand is his long-time collaborator (both educated at the Norwegian Film School in Lillehammer). It is a shame that this film wasn't elected Norway's contribution to this year's Academy Awards. It might even have gained notice for its acting. Nils Jørgen Kaalstad has impressive potency in the lead, and young Mikkel Bratt Silset's performance is full of courage and empathy. Still, it is Henrik Mestad who goes the furthest with his Hans. His performance is drenched in the complexity and history of his character. Compare Mestad's work here with Jackie Earl Haley's Oscar-nominated performance in Little Children and I think you'll come to the same conclusion as I did.
At the very end, director Richter Strand rounds off his film with impressive flair, as he uses a facade shot of a building to tell the delicate final events. It's a touch worthy of a great director. And based on this film, Richter Strand might just be one in the making.