With Thale, Aleksander Nordaas's second feature, the director establishes himself as someone to whom we should pay close attention.
Nordaas isn't just the director; he's also the writer, editor, associate producer, and set decorator. His involvement with every aspect of this film results in a wonderful, evocative, fully realized piece of imaginative filmmaking.
Part of this is the film's subject matter: a mythical Norwegian creature known as a "huldra," in this case, one named Thale (pronounced "TELL-uh"). Although her mysterious and heartbreaking story forms the core of the film, it is actually a story about trust and friendship, but one that is neither corny nor overly sentimental.
Nordaas skillfully weaves multiple timelines and storylines without resorting to shopworn flashbacks, instead utilizing a tape-recorded voice as a quasi-narrator as well as dreamlike sequences that reveal more profound significance as the film progresses.
There is also an incredibly engaging contrast between Thale's mystical existence and the gruesome, yet matter-of-fact world of Leo and Elvis, two members of a forensic cleaning crew. Nordaas manages to make both worlds mesh beautifully with extreme close-ups, minimal non-diegetic music, but maximum diegetic sound. The result is a film that is remarkably intimate yet not gratuitous or exploitative.
Much of the credit for the film's enchanting yet ultimately realistic aura must be given to Jon Signve Skard and Erlend Norvold as Leo and Elvis, respectively. With their subtle inflections of voice and unique physical mannerisms, we are immediately drawn to these two; they feel like real people and not characters.
As the film's titular character, Silje Reinåmo creates an aura of genuine otherworldliness. She speaks no dialogue, conveying everything with her face and eyes, but she is not a cipher or a sexualized girl-woman. And although her fear of those who wish to harm her feels uncomfortably real, Thale is not a helpless heroine.
As both a fantasy and a slice of reality, Thale succeeds. It isn't a horror film, though there are horrors within it. There are also moments of laugh-out-loud humor, though it isn't a comedy, either. It is a little bit of all these things, but mostly Thale is an emotionally engaging film that will hold sway over your heart, and precisely when you least expect it.