Dec 13, 2018
Welcome back to another episode in our Netflix Original catchup series. Today’s film comes from Norway, one of my favorite film scenes despite so few reviews this year. For another film from the scene, check out the critically acclaimed “22 July” (Episode #286), then follow that up with any of their wonderful horror films. And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com or reach out over social media.
Today’s movie is “Battle” (2018), the Netflix Original Norwegian drama directed by Katarina Launing and written for the screen by Maja Lunde. The film follows Amalie (Lisa Teige), an affluent teenage dancer whose family suddenly loses everything, and move into the city. Apart from everything she knows, she strikes up a friendship with hip-hop battle dancer Mikael (Fabian Svegaard Tapia), and learns how to dance in a new way.
Folks watch dance movies for two reasons. First, they love stories that involve competitions, and whether that’s competition for a spot, or competition for a prize, the built-in narrative structure allows us to see interest, training, conflict, and ultimately, success, not always measured in winning. Second, they love the dancing segments, especially if they explore energetic dance styles, from cheerleading to step to today’s dance genre, hip hop battle dancing, born in the United States by hip hop dance crews, from standard b-boy steps all the way to crumping. Earlier this year I reviewed “Step Sisters” (Episode #023), a controversial film about a mostly white sorority training and competing in a step competition, traditionally a black fraternity, sorority, and cultural activity born out of a shared history. Hip hop dance crews, however, don’t have the same kind of singular cultural ownership, and hip hop has become a global phenomenon, spreading into multiple countries, including Norway, the location of today’s film.
I was intrigued by a Norwegian hip hop battle dance film, not because I find the idea incredulous, but because the film has an opportunity to showcase the impact of hip hop and the increasing diversity of Scandinavian countries, Norway in particular. We start, appropriately enough, when our protagonist Amalie is living the affluent life, but also training hard in modern dance, with access to multiple spaces to practice. And then suddenly, her father asks everyone to leave, and the debt enforcement agents swoop in to claim all property and whisk them away to Oslo. Amalie is brought low in a flash, and tries to balance her new life with her old life, and honestly, making a lot of bad decisions in the process. She meets Mikael while searching for a spot to practice, but hooks up with him while maintaining her relationship with Aksel (Vebjørn Enger) in her previous life, where she is also lying to everyone else to keep a sense of her privilege. It makes her wholly unlikeable, which is a terrible role for Lisa Teige after her cult success with “Skam”.
The film contains two separate competitions. Amalie is competing for a spot in a modern dance troupe while also training with her newfound hip hop crew for a future battle, both energetic styles in their own way. However, with the exception of a wonderful choreographed scene using BBD’s classic “Poison”, the rest of the segments fall flat. The modern dance segments follow the same sequence, and contain too many jump cuts. The other hip hop segments didn’t have loud enough music, and lacked the energy of an actual battle dance venue. And sin of sins in a dance movie, I actually found the final battle dance between Amalie and Mikael to be horrible, with Amalie clearly outmatched, and watching it slowly devolve into a public make out session after the hip-hop beats are replaced with some washed out indie electronic music meant to express love. The fact it ends with Amalie finding herself, getting the man she was so clearly slumming with, and redeeming her previous battle dance performance with so much garbage was nauseating.
“Battle” (2018) is a romance dance film, with an unlikeable relationship between an affluent teen made low and the boy she slummed it with before getting caught by her friends. The film scores well enough with the competition format, but often fails to effectively capture both dance styles on film. Fans of romance dance films will probably eat this up, but folks looking for great choreography may want to look elsewhere.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 5.6/10
“Battle” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.