The Scandinavian Film Festival is only running in Canberra for 9 more days (it opened on Tuesday), so it’s a short time to see all the Norwegian features. It has four Norwegian films: Beatles, Homesick, Out of Nature and Underdog. Apart from enjoying the movies, hearing the Norsk pronunciation really helps to get a sense of the language (and I need all the help I can get!).
Tonight I saw Homesick (De nærmeste) (it screens again next week), you may have seen an intimate shot from it in the Festival’s promotions.
Before I saw the movie, I was really thinking of the concept of homesickness, and how it relates to my heritage. The story was a lot more confronting than I expected – and I had planned to see it again as Norwegian practice, but I won’t be doing that and definitely not with family! I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll just say that generally I thought that Charlotte had a unique vulnerability and an abandonment pattern. The motif of family jewellery was really powerful, with the circle of a necklace symbolising group membership. It was very challenging, I felt more awkwardness in it than a satisfying “Nordic melancholia”. I noticed a few different words though, so it wasn’t without benefit.
One good thing about the movie was seeing another moviegoer in this wondrous and totally relevant home-knitted jumper. He said a friend made it 20 years ago. The front had SKI knitted in navy, little Vs picked out on the white woolly snow expanse. He didn’t understand why I was so enthralled with it, I can’t really explain it either.
I’d like to have a proper immersion experience in Norwegian culture – I guess the point of this is that not every part of a country will be what you want to watch. It is odd to feel homesick for a place you don’t really know – a sort of hiraeth. My family is Norwegian, and having grown up in Australia, I’d like to have a better sense of Norway to help resolve my anaemic cultural identity. It’s existing in that interstitial space between, when your name means people regularly ask about your background but the answer never satisfies, it’s the pieces that don’t match up. When I worked in hospitality (15 years ago), an older colleague said he gained such a feeling of connection when he went back to the “mother country”, seeing behaviours in context which then increased his self-understanding. I didn’t grasp the significance at the time, but he said that one day I’d be overcome by a nostalgic longing for my heritage. He was right.
Fiona Watson has said that homesickness can be triggered by anything: “You see an image and it immediately goes straight to your heart.” Mary Jaksch highlights the importance of visiting the landscape of your parents and grandparents: “I now know where I come from, and have reconnected with my roots.”
Recently the City News’ Canberra Confidential column chortled at Visit Canberra being a bit “excitable” for tweeting about resources for researching the wartime experiences of relatives (family history research and geneaology). They must never have felt the satisfaction of discovering how your ancestors met (on an overnight boat trip, and married the next day), gaining knowledge about future propensity for medical conditions (sitting at a table-full of people, all with intense party tricks due to hypermobile joints), the spookiness of seeing your features in an ancestor’s portrait or learning about your namesake. Perhaps documenting and preserving your family story isn’t what everyone would choose in a holiday, but for some it’s a definite drawcard for visiting Canberra (the AWM, NLA, AIATSIS, ACTHL, NGA and more). Increased traffic to these institutions shows that for many people, family history and genealogy IS exciting. Genealogists (tourists and locals) contribute to Canberra’s economy and have a deep appreciation for our cultural institutions, collections and their services.
If it’s not exciting to learn about the past, the success of Who do you think you are? as a television program must be an anomaly.
I have a searing hope that I might visit Norway again soon. I like the idea of carrying places within us, “…keeping the old environment alive inside…” (this quote was in a very different context, but it’s from van Tilburg, M. & Vingerhoets, A., Psychological aspects of geographical moves: homesickness and acculturation stress, Amsterdam University Press, 2007, p. 106). In the meantime, I’ll hope to enjoy the other movies in the festival and keep watching Desperate Housewives with Norwegian subtitles.