by Marta Bałaga
- Taking a note from Agnès Varda, in Nina Hobert’s Nordic:Dox Award winner, one sings, the other doesn’t
“This isn’t just a film,” states director Nina Hobert in Julia&I, but by that time everyone knows it already. Winner of the Nordix:Dox Award at this year’s CPH:DOX, this autobiographical take on a childhood bond revisited years later would make for a perfect tear-jerker if ever transformed into fiction. There is just something irresistible about two female friends growing together with all their problems and fears, and although Julia [Werup, now a singer] seems to be the one playing the wild child at first, the adventurous one who was never afraid, conversations about pain emerge on both sides, evenly distributed.
If it sounds melodramatic, so be it – it also makes the whole enterprise kind of endearing. These ladies can be ogling at boys and burping for belly laughs but, although very different, they can also be the wind beneath each other’s wings, as claimed before in the ultimate friendship weepie, Beaches. And what initially looks like an attempt to find cracks in that one friend you have always admired, soon becomes a story of two, with the director also allowing herself to be heard, if not seen.
As Hobert follows her friend – and documents her own struggles – over the course of four years, it feels like that 1977 Agnès Varda film once again: one sings, the other doesn’t. Julia does things, lots of them really, while Nina prefers to observe. There is some nostalgia here too, of course, with old drunken snaps and that long-gone 90’s tan shining through. “She showed me a world without boundaries,” shares Hobert, but something has changed. While Julia stuck to her old ways, leading “a decadent life in Copenhagen” (whatever that might mean), Hobert’s own life became very quiet.
Still, all it takes is another meeting to realise they are both searching for something, some meaning – they are just going about it in different ways. They struggle with addiction and grief, or to match the achievements of their high-profile parents, who smile at them from an old photograph next to a salacious headline. There is a lot of sharing going on here, and it is often teary, which might make some viewers opt to run away, fast. Their conversations range from mental health issues to the simple fact of “not having forever as a woman”, making one wonder if they are really stronger together, especially as life pushes them into opposite directions. And even though Hobert’s constant voiceover becomes jarring, there is a melancholic feel to her story which is not entirely unwelcome. In a way, this film feels almost like a farewell to what they used to be for so long. Now where is this Bette Midler song when you need it?
Julia&I was produced by Nina Hobert for Nina Hobert Universe AB and Film I Skane.
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