Norwegian filmmaker Henry K. Norvalls has been quite prolific on Short of the Week over the past year. In the last six months, we have featured two of his shorts: the intense Shower and the subtly unnerving Sweet Things—a film that has really stuck with me as the #MeToo movement has evolved into such an important contemporary cultural movement.
Norvalls completes the hat trick of socially conscious short filmmaking with his latest release, Taxfree. Like his previous featured films, this too is a conversation starter. And, like Sweet Things, it’s less about plot and more about a creeping feeling of unease as the dynamic between its characters is revealed.
As a screener for this site, I’ve watched a lot of movies about sexual trafficking. And, while I can’t deny the importance of these stories, they are often portrayed in a weirdly fetishistic light. For a mainstream example, think of something like Taken, a film that relishes in the grossness of the sex trade in order to give our hero nameless accented bad guys to take out.
Norvalls taps into something much more unsettling here—the normalcy of it all…how sex can so quickly, and effortlessly, be turned into a commodity. Our protagonist isn’t kidnapped or stuffed into a shipping crate to be sold to the highest bidder. Rather, she arrives on a plane—willingly—and is picked up as casually as someone would call for an Uber. She even gets to select the phone she wants to use! Similar to Sweet Things, the result is something that just sticks with you, an unsettling feeling resting in the pit of your stomach. Cinematically, this is accented by Norvalls’s choice to frame the action over the course of several long shots with a static camera, indicating how the main character is trapped by her surroundings.
I will concede that I think Norvalls is only briefly touching upon this topic. The film asks a lot of questions, but doesn’t really answer any of them. But, clearly that’s not the director’s intention (nor is it something that a 9 minute runtime would allow). Based on the three shorts we featured in the past year, Norvalls is quite gifted at crafting experiential, socially conscious cinematic worlds. Now, we’re excited to see if his cinematic prowess will translate to longer form work. Along with his production company, Folkefiender, he’s currently developing a feature film.