What do you do when you feel alienated and shut out from your own children by your ex-husband and find yourself in the possibility of not having custody when things get ugly between the two of you? Make the potentially ill-advised and rash decision of taking your children away for a holiday without warning, of course. Well, that is exactly what a mother of two decides to do in Swedish-language drama Charter, written and directed by Amanda Kernell in her sophomore film, following her successful 2016 film Sami Blood.
Alice (Ane Dahl Torp) is a mother of two who is slowly losing the will to not only be with her children but also to connect with one another and be able to even communicate with them daily. An ugly custody battle ensues and it looks like her ex-husband Mattias (Sverrir Gudnason) will be the one victorious in the matter, due to the fact he looks after the children and appears to be the sole breadwinner parent in taking care of them since Alice decided to leave the family for what appeared to be a professional career move to Stockholm, Sweden. Moving to a small-town community where Mattias and the children live to feel more closer to them, Alice is unsuccessful with feeling included or even welcome. While her son Vincent (Troy Lundkvist) , is more than happy to see her, oldest child, and daughter Elina (Tintin Poggats Sarri) shows signs of disdain and teenage angst with a clear dislike towards her almost-abandoning mother. It’s not until a decision to allow Mattias sole custody of the children does Alice take it upon herself to take Vincent and Elina away on an impromptu charter trip to Tenerife, the largest island in the Canary Islands, to get away and feel in control of the situation, while also attempting to re-connect with her children and establish herself as a mother that has morals and makes sensible decisions.
I am not familiar with the cast of Charter, and not having watched many Swedish films at all also does not help, however, I must say that not only were the cast all great in their performances, but Ane Dahl Torp in particular as Alice was easily the stand-out star of the film. Watching her longing to catch a glimpse of her children, make rash decisions and look absolutely drained of the current hardship she is facing emotionally, made me really believe that this was a woman on the brink of desperation. One scene in particular where Dahl Torp shines is during a karaoke night in Tenerife, where she coaxes Vincent and Elina to stand up on stage with her and sing Meat Loaf’s 1993 hit “I’d do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”. While hesitant, the kids eventually end up singing with Alice as she adoringly looks at them while singing to the crowd. Watching her sing (more so of a metaphor to her children than it is to showcase her singing abilities to a bunch of holidaying strangers) about how she would seemingly go to the ends of the earth for her offspring, is heart-touching and really just sweet to watch.
While taking the kids away in the manner that she did may not seem ethical and even downright illegal, you really get a feeling of love and adoration that she is conveying across. During my viewing, I really felt genuinely sad for Dahl Torp‘s character and hoped that things would work out in Alice‘s favour, this all due to how well Dahl Torp’s performance was in this film. Props also go to Lundkvist and Poggats Sarri as Vincent and Elina, respectively, for making believable performances as Alice’s children who were simply confused, angry and torn between what is right and wrong during an ugly custody battle.
It’s not just the performances that make Charter a success. Writer-director Amanda Kernell brings a real sadness and rawness to the writing and storytelling of a couple who do not see eye to eye in an ugly war of husband vs wife, a tale as old as time. The characters on-screen seem believable and all communicate with one another in a real manner where everything feels authentic.
But it is cinematographer Sophia Olsson who deserves mention that really makes Charter look breathtaking. When the film begins, we see Alice in a very cold, grim, dark, and even depressing-looking environment around her. It’s not until Alice and children flee to Tenerife that her surroundings suddenly are colourful, summer-like and even pretty. Not only does this result in lovely shots of the ocean, blue sky and colours as opposed to bleak and dull scenery, it is a reflection and look into Alice’s psyche evolving in front of viewers with changing imagery to match her current state of mind. Olsson knows exactly how to display this for us and does a magnificent job with just how stunning this film looks. Even the shot of Alice hugging Victor tightly whilst swimming in the ocean just conveys so much emotion, a sad kind of beautiful sight.
While this is mostly a drama film with a touch of thriller thrown into the mix, Charter is absolutely worth a watch just for the cinematography alone, regardless if you enjoy foreign films with English subtitles or not.
Charter will be available to watch as part of the Sydney Film Festival between the 10th and the 21st of June 2020.
For more information, visit https://www.sff.org.au