AFI Fest 2014 Review: “Blind”

Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Henrik Rafaelsen star in Eskil Vogt's "Blind," here reviewed by film critic Danny Baldwin.If you didn’t know going into “Blind” that the film marks the directorial debut of a longtime screenwriter— Eskil Vogt, who most notably penned the Joachim Trier-directed “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st”—you will rapidly develop a hunch for this as the film progresses. Reminiscent of the ensemble-based work of Paul Haggis, another scribe-turned-filmmaker, the film privileges clever, twisty narrative machinations over meditative visuals and contemplative moments. This is not to say that “Blind” does not boast a distinguished aesthetic—on the contrary, cinematographer Thimios Bakos (“Dogtooth,” “Keep the Lights On”) has an impeccable eye for color, texture, and composition—but instead that it never justifies itself as a movie rather than as merely a story. Even with decent performances that take advantage of the visual medium, I couldn’t help but feel like I would have been just as well off listening to “Blind” as a book-on-tape because Vogt’s chief concern is the narrative — ironic given that the film centers on a protagonist coping with the loss of her sight.

I suppose it was convenient for Vogt to structure “Blind” as a film rather than as a book, in that the cinematic form is more conducive to stories-within-stories. Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) is a writer herself, busy at work on a new novel as she adjusts to ocular blackness. The book revolves around three intersecting characters: Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt) is a porn addict who silently yearns for a real relationship with his neighbor Elin (Vera Vitali), a divorcee struggling to forge an identity separate from motherhood, a pursuit that leads her to have a fling with Morten (Henrik Rafaelson), who happens to be Ingrid’s real-life husband. The writer’s housebound imagination provides insight into her personal anxieties, amusements, and fantasies.

The implication is that the movie serves as a visual manifestation of the images in Ingrid’s imagination, a novel idea that Vogt unfortunately executes in the most straightforward way possible. There was so much potential for the film’s aesthetic to become an expression of Ingrid’s subjectivity—a visual interrogation of how a blind individual might perceive the world differently, limited to the pictures in their mind—but instead Vogt films the enactments of her story in precisely the way that one with 20/20 eyesight would envision them. The raw vulnerability of Petersen’s lead performance becomes objectified by the tangibility of her inner thoughts. For a movie about one woman’s most personal emotions, “Blind” is mighty literal, suggesting that Vogt would have been better off leaving the imagining to his frequent collaborator Trier, who is able to maintain a level of ambiguity in images that allows the viewer to experience and empathize rather than simply interpret.