In The House Of Angels
Norway 1998, 97 min.
In the House of Angels is a feature length documentary that explores everyday life in the Sandheim home for the elderly in Norway. The film provides suggestive insight into an issue rarely dealt with in such a sensible and respectful way. The characters get close to the camera, and once they are alone with the film crew, they use it as an intimate friend to whom they can confess, express their despair, or confide their opinions. It is also a provocative film, as it confront its audience with their own attitude to, not only old age, but humanity in general.
The film follows the residents of the Sandheim home for one year, and the viewer witnesses many different successive situations behind the walls. At first glance everything seems nice and neat, but as the film works its way beneath the tidy surface, it reveals the many layers of human needs that do not fit into the daily schedule. Although traditions are honoured, food is served and beds are made, the emotional content behind these actions seems to have perished in order to maintain normality and good appearances. Tears are wiped away, not with compassion, but to remove emotional evidence. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Many of the residents have lost contact with their families, others have lost their beloved husband or wife, some are physically weak while others are senile, yet they are all human beings like you and me, dependent on the human contact they receive. “Being poor in spirit is just one state of being, and there is nothing wrong with that”, notes one of the residents, but whether we need this state of being is the central question in this film.
Thus on one hand, this film is a much-needed hymn to old age portrayed with warmth and humour, while on the other it questions the idea of the Welfare State. Does this seeming inability to incorporate humanity in the daily lives of these people mean that the idea of the welfare state has failed? Or has the concept of normality reached such a narrow definition that it has excluded mankind itself. This kind of reconsideration is suggested throughout the film.
The logic of the film carries its own lyricism in a rich blend of observational and reflective styles. This prism makes the film a strong statement in which Margreth Olin takes her rhetorical and aesthetic liberties seriously and expresses her own interpretation of the issue at hand to heighten our awareness of the images and sounds in the reality she depicts.