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Katja is 27 years old and lives in Berlin with her Norwegian boyfriend Fredrik (Lasse Holhus). She makes money giving private lessons in German and spends her days in a frenetic rush, pinged on by the multiple alarms and reminders of her iPhone. Every night she dreams of her own violent death. Something has to give.
Will it be her own mental health or the collapse of the ecosystem? Or is she possessed by a demonic presence or are these more prosaically mental health issues? What is certain is that she needs a break. She longs to travel – she whispers Laos like an incantation – but hasn’t got money to pay the electricity bill. Her iPhone intrudes on her ‘waking’ hours, creeping into the screen or splitting it in two, or when she drops breaking the screen, the image breaks as well.
A trip to northern Norway to visit Fredrik’s family comes as a genuine moment of escape and potentially a spiritual awakening. The pace of the film slows down and her dreams recede as she embarks on a digital detox. But as she becomes fixated on the idea of a regeneration and reinvention – deciding to become a vegan and perhaps volunteering for a homeless shelter – so even this adoption of the New Katja begins to resemble the very mania she is seeking to escape.
Leonie Reiner gives Katja, who’s one yoga class away from being insufferable, a real charm and personality, with more than a passing resemblance to a young Diane Keaton. Her dissatisfactions, especially with the lazy drip of a boyfriend, are understandable and her panic about the future, exacerbated by the scab picking of apocalyptic environmentalist podcasts, is entirely justified.
Writer and director Truls Krane Meby developed his first feature from an initial idea for a short, and you can see that DNA in the film still. There is a real visual verve and the editing in the first half of the picture (also Meby) has the kind of cocaine fizz of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (2000). At one point nightmarish visions of thumb people made only for scrolling and screaming assail Katja’s dreams. And this surreal take on hyper-connected virtual life contrasts vividly with the landscapes and weather of northern Norway. Likewise, Katja and Fredrik’s doleful romance seems inauthentic besides the gentle comedy of a visit to Frederich’s parents and grandparents.
The film has some weaknesses. The bulk of Katja and Fredrik’s relationship is played out in an English which banishes much of the subtlety from their performances. The film sets up so much in the beginning that it later finds difficult to resolve or even meaningfully pursue. Ideas are left hanging midway, underdeveloped or simply disappear in the Nordic mist. And the film doesn’t so much end as finish. Open endings are one thing, but they shouldn’t whiff of ‘that’ll do’.
That said the film has a huge ace in Reiner’s performance, which is human and touching as well as funny. There must be something in the water in Norway when it comes to young women and the modern world and though Katja Dreams of Waking Up isn’t quite in the league of Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World (2021) and Ninjababy (Yngvild Sve Flikke, 2021), which premiered at Tromsø last year, Meby’s debut is an assured and exciting piece of work which bodes well for the future.
The 32nd Tromsø International Film Festival runs from January 17th to the 23rd. DMovies is reporting live all week!