Norwegian film takes top prize

Beware of Children explores relationship between children and adults

Beware of Children

Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix
Dag Johan Haugerud and Yngve Sæther have won the 2020 Nordic Council Film Prize.

The Norwegian film Beware of Children has won the 2020 Nordic Council Film Prize for an ambitious and thoughtful work that explores the relationship between children and adults, while asking pressing questions.

Screenwriter and director Dag Johan Haugerud and producer Yngve Sæther received the film prize at a digital awards ceremony on Oct. 27. COVID-19 restrictions meant that the awards ceremony could not take place in Iceland.

In Beware of Children, a 13-year-old dies after fighting with another pupil in the schoolyard. Because of this incident, the adults around these pupils face a myriad of questions and dilemmas. How well do the parents and teachers really know the children in their care? Do parents have an obligation to believe their children? To what degree should they protect them? Is it really possible to always act in the best interests of a child? And why does it feel so much worse when something happens to a child as opposed to an adult?

Haugerud presents complex and engaging characters and situations within broad contexts, which together serve as a portrait of modern Norway. The parents’ political ideologies influence their discussions about the children and how to raise them. The school principal discovers that the demands of the system and bureaucracy are sometimes at odds with her own wishes and impulses. This is the origin of some of the dark comedy in the film, which ensures that it is never hard to watch in spite of its heavy themes. Humor is also present in scenes where the adults, with varying degrees of success, have to suppress their own vanity and aggression to keep the peace. Some of them discover traits in themselves they are not proud of. Maybe grownups, too, are children, deep down inside.

Haugerud is a filmmaker with a highly personal view of the world and an unusually well-tuned ear for dialogue. Over the years, he has cultivated a warm and trusting relationship with some of Norway’s finest actors, and in Beware of Children, they bring out the best in each other. This is a rich film about what matters most of all.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 13, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.