Film Review | The Quiet Roar

This slow-burning Scandinavian drama doesn’t have much of a plot engine, but what it lacks in narrative thrust it makes up for in poignant observations about life and beautiful cinematography.

With a little help from health-resort-sanctioned drugs, Marianne (Evabritt Strandberg) visits her 25-year-old self (Joni Franceen, pictured) to get some closure after she gets diagnosed with a terminal illness
With a little help from health-resort-sanctioned drugs, Marianne (Evabritt Strandberg) visits her 25-year-old self (Joni Franceen, pictured) to get some closure after she gets diagnosed with a terminal illness

Storytelling is a tricky little thing, when you get down to it. Just because most of us spend a large chunk of our lives consuming stories – in whatever shape or form: be they weighty literary novels or drunken tall tales at the pub – doesn’t mean we’re instinctively aware of the nuts-and-bolts it takes to prop them up and hold them together.

In fact, it’s probably a testament to the sneaky skills of the best storytellers that we don’t quite know how most of them do it: a magician who reveals his tricks is not much of a magician at all, and writers and artists have to be magicians in that sense too – they have to succeed in transporting you from mundane reality by a creative sleight-of-hand.

The Quiet Roar is a film that both plays into the rules of traditional storytelling while commenting on them at the same time.

Marianne (Evabritt Strandberg) is a 68-year-old woman diagnosed with a terminal disease. She seeks therapy at a clinic where she is treated with psilocybin (LSD) and meditation by a counsellor, Eva (Hanna Schygulla). Through this she is transferred to her subconscious, where she meets and confronts her 25-year-old self (Joni Franceen) and her former – and now estranged – husband (Jörgen Svensson), all against the breathtaking backdrop of a Norwegian mountainside, where the family had taken a (psychologically) fateful holiday.

While it’s a delicate and often poignant reflection on the ‘life not lived’, the structure of this Swedish-Norwegian co-production is devoid any real urgency, essentially cheating us out of a story by presenting a leisurely unspooling character study instead.

Though the extended trip down memory lane structure – coupled with the gorgeously photographed cinematography that reels us in – evokes Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2012), no film in recent memory has been so obstinately about a character’s inner landscape.

That director and co-writer Henrik Hellström commits to his idea wholeheartedly is admirable; but there are key storytelling gaps that this approach can’t quite make up for.

It’s something of a paradox that a film entirely dedicated to a protagonist looking back at the key moments of their life is disappointingly devoid of any real character development.

For all that the film is essentially a dramatised psychoanalysis session for Marianne, both the protagonist and her husband (whose name is never mentioned) are presented more as stock characters than as full-fledged individuals.

That this doesn’t cripple the film, nor render it mind-numbingly boring, is to Hellström’s credit. Instead of psychological gobbledygook, what we get is an honest and simple film. By playing Ghost of Christmas Past over her own life, Marianne is regaled with that rarest of things: a second chance, even if it’s “all in her head”. There’s something both heartening and melancholy about the way she’s allowed to make amends with her husband – and herself – in the abstract: you know the process is giving her some peace of mind, but you’re also left wondering why she didn’t act on them the first time around.

The reason, of course, is the fact that she’s simply a flawed human being like all of us. But Hellström is also yet another in a line of filmmakers to drain Scandinavian emotional frigidity for subdued drama.

If anything, the film’s key message appears to be: “Better out than in”.

Translated titles often come across as amusingly misguided, but ‘The Quiet Roar’ more than adequately puts across the emotional texture of Hellström’s film. Its pacing may be slack and its conceit somewhat facile from a storytelling point of view, but it does reward its viewer’s patience with on-point observations about life, along with some beautifully curated imagery to soak in.

Though there’s something to be said about how ‘cinematic tourism’ appears to be a selling point of many internationally peddled non-English-language films. It’s almost as if beautiful landscapes are a basic requirement if you want to get your film exported.

The Quiet Roar was shown at Eden Cinemas as part of the Side Street Films initiative.

More in Film