TIFF Review: 'Blind Spot'

Blind Spot (Blindsone)
(Norway, 98 min.)
Written and directed by Tuva Novotny
Starring: Pia Tjelta, Nora Mathea Øien, Oddgeir Thune, Anders Baasmo Christiansen
Programme: Discovery (International  Premiere)
Courtesy TIFF
The power of the long take finds one of its best examples in Blind Spot. This outstanding Norwegian drama from actor-turned-director Tuva Novotny gives Birdman and Victoria a run for their money as the one-take wonder. A single 98-minute unbroken shot provides one of the most emotionally absorbing case studies in family dynamics and mental illness one could see at the festival this year. (TIFF’s programme guide incorrectly notes that Blind Spot is a series of long takes. The film doesn’t even credit an editor.) Even more impressive is the fact that Blind Spot marks Novotny’s first feature as a director, so the sheer difficulty of orchestrating all this camerawork and human drama into one perfect shot only makes the coup more noteworthy. Blind Spot is an outstanding technical and artistic achievement

Novotny, who previously appeared in films like Annihilation, A War, Eat Pray Love, and last year’s TIFF opener Borg/McEnroe, thrusts audiences into the day of a few young schoolgirls as they round out the day in gym class. The camera, guided dexterously by cinematographer Jonas Alarik, passively observes the girls as they get ready in the change room. It lingers on the full room as the girls talk and tease one another while heading to the showers off-screen. As the shot holds, Blind Spot at first suggests that Novotny has seen a few too many Romanian movies and wants in on their love for long takes. Nearly ten minutes pass before the chorus of girls narrows down to two students, Anna (Ellen Heyerdahl) and Tea (Nora Mathea Øien), as they return home and reflect upon the day at school.

The camera follows the girls out through the school, into the yard, and onto the road home. It lingers on them, letting audiences occupy their headspace as they discuss the bullying and teasing that transpired only moments before. Then the camera revolves around the girls, reframing its perspective on them and shifting the dramatic emphasis from one girl to another. This move is pivotal to Blind Spot since Novotny manages to disorient the viewer and reframe the film experience through new perspectives with one ingenious swoop of the camera.

At this point, it seems that Tea is our protagonist, yet the young girl only owns the frame for a few minutes when she arrives home. She brushes her teeth and readies for bed. Then, in an utterly suspenseful dramatic coup that puts a viewer on the edge of their seat for the next eighty minutes, the camera watches Tea walk outside the frame. A window opens, but we don’t see it. We only see the space of the family home and the reaction of Tea’s mother, Maria (Pia Tjelta), when she finds the room empty. The blind spot becomes a recurring metaphor in the film as Novotny reveals the elements of mental illness that ripple throughout the family and pass undetected day by day.

Blind Spot lets audience experience both life and death as we watch several lives upended and changed forever. Every minute counts as Maria grapples with the tragedy before her. The camera frantically runs down a dozen flights of stairs with Maria as she races to find her daughter on the ground below. One’s pulse hammers in adrenaline-pumping awe as the mother frantically does everything she can to save her daughter’s life. The tragedy plays out in real time as Blind Spot makes audiences wait with Maria for an ambulance to arrive and then follow it to the hospital. Every second of it is nerve-wracking hell.

Novotny’s film is astonishingly well executed from first frame to last. The duration of the shot amplifies the intensity of the drama because Novotny never gives the audience a moment to breathe. We’re invested in these characters from the moment we meet them, and the full-throttle conviction of the ensemble ensures that every performance is rife with real, tangible, human emotions.

Tjelta is exceptionally good. Her performance knocks the wind out of Maria. It’s an intense commitment both physically and emotionally that never overplays its hand. Blind Spot is almost emotionally exhausting as one watches Maria pass through stages of fear, anxiety, grief, blame, and, ultimately, acceptance. Novotny puts lots of faith in her characters and they carry the film remarkably as Blind Spot straddles film and theatre by asking the performers to deliver the emotional intimacy required of the camera with the stamina demanded by the stage. The choreography of the one-take sequences is, again, an audaciously difficult gamble with a brilliant payoff. If anyone wants a true discovery at this year’s festival, Blind Spot is it.

Blind Spot screens:
-Mon, Sept. 10 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 6:45 PM
-Wed, Sept. 12 at Jackman Hall at 9:00 AM
-Sun. Sept. 16 Cineplex Scotiabank at 3:45 PM