A Human Position

Directed by: Anders Emblem
Distributed by: MUBI

Written by Michael Clawson

The pensive Nordic drama “A Human Position” opens at the top of a hill, where director Anders Emblem’s camera provides a sweeping, exquisite view of his film’s setting: the Norwegian port city of Ålesund, which is strewn across a series of islands, nestled amid fjords and mountains. It’s twilight, it’s quiet, the frame is still and empty of people; cruise ships are at the dock on the left, homes and glowing street lights are clustered together on the right, and the cloudy sky casts a diffuse, pale blue light, with faint traces of pink. It’s the first of many static, cozily inviting images that “A Human Position” has to offer, and it establishes an aesthetic elegance that proves engaging even when the narrative is less so.

Into the frame climbs Asta, a newspaper journalist, breathing heavily as she ascends a staircase and pauses to drink in the skyline. “A Human Position” follows Asta as she returns to work after an unexplained absence and takes an interest in a story concerning a local refugee’s deportation. Whether she’s at home with her keyboardist girlfriend or at her desk at work, Emblem’s camera often finds Asta silently lost in thought, consumed by what looks like a spell of ennui. She finds something like a sense of purpose in pursuing the details of the refugee’s story, even as her investigation mostly hits dead ends.

Slightly reminiscent of the Zürcher brothers’ films in its visual interests and patterns, “A Human Position” is a minimalistic study of both a place and a person, but it’s more effective on one front than the other. Asta is too lightly sketched as a character, and the plot can feel perfunctory and vague. Where the movie has greater success is in situating Asta within her Scandinavian surroundings. Emblem has a sharp eye for the clean lines and contemporary furnishings found in Asta’s house (also the home of Asta’s scene-stealing kitten, at one point seen leisurely sprawled on a steel blue armchair), and his adoration of Ålesund’s natural and urban beauty shines through his compositions. Muted pastel houses lining long city streets, trees scattered around art nouveau architecture – Emblem’s affection for such sights is contagious.

“A Human Position” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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