Norwegian director Bent Hamer gives Canada a wink and a smile

Cinefest film was shot in the Sault Ste. Marie area

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Norwegian director Bent Hamer has only made two films in English. The first was 2005’s Factotum, based on a Charles Bukowski novel and shot in Minnesota. The second, coming to Cinefest on Sept. 23, is a made-in-Canada co-production called The Middle Man, about an accident-prone small town where one civic employee has the full-time job of delivering bad news.

It stars Norwegian actor Pål Sverre Hagen, but Canadian audiences will likely be more familiar with some of the supporting cast. They include Don McKellar, Paul Gross, Rossif Sutherland and Sheila McCarthy. So of course my first question to Hagen and Hamer at TIFF: How great was it, working with Canadians?

“I didn’t know them before this,” Hamer says. “But I must say, and I don’t know which comes first, very nice people and very good actors. And … what more can you ask for? Very funny to be together with them, sometimes a little bit too funny.”

Hagen agrees. “We don’t have to lie this time,” he says. “When you discover that you laugh easily together, you have fun together, that’s something you can pick up very quickly. And I think that energy is just perfect for creating anything you need for the movie. I will never forget them, any of them.”

It’s an odd endorsement, given that the film’s subject matter is so dark. Hagen’s character, Frank Farrelli, is tasked by the local sheriff (Gross) and the town doctor (McKellar) with driving around the community whenever someone dies or goes into a coma, telling the next of kin. But for all that, there are moments of quirky, oddball humour that fans of Hamer’s work will recognize.

“There’s a lot of humour in my films, but as I always say they’re not comedies. The key to the humour as I like to see it – the kind of poetic, bigger humour – is to be serious and not laughing. Which was also the only question Paul Gross had: ‘There’s a lot of humour but should we try to be funny?’ Absolutely not, I said. ‘Oh, that’s good, that’s the only question I have.’

Hagen may be best known to Canadians for playing two fellow Norwegians – adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl in the 2012 film Kon-Tiki, and Roald Amundsen in Amundsen: The Great Explorer, which was released in Canada this year. Frank Farrelli is a very different sort of character, but Hagen sees a connection to his more adventurous roles.

“I think that word ‘exploration’ is actually the most important to sum up this work, because that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” he says. “We wanted to explore this man and maybe hopefully keep you guessing who is this guy really. Every day coming to the set, that would be the task for the day. To explore him and the situations and see who is he today, who is he now, and what is he becoming. That’s the core of that character – exploring.”

Although The Middle Man was filmed in Sault Ste. Marie, it is set in the United States. (The town features many U.S. flags, all of them apparently flying permanently at half-mast.) Part of that has to do with the source material; Hamer adapted a story by Norway-born Lars Saabye Christensen that the author wrote in 2012 while travelling around the U.S.

“To have a sheriff, a doctor and a pastor to run the town, I don’t know if you could get away with that in Canada,” says Hamer. “It’s a little bit of a western, it has a little mythic flavour to it.”

Though he adds: “Canada is also kind of part of the Midwest, if you make the belt a little bit wider.”

Keen-eyed Canadians will nonetheless recognize our country from time to time, like the scene that has Hagen’s character rounding a street corner. The sign clearly says “Queen Street,” a name ubiquitous in Canada but harder to find south of the border.

“It’s a little wink to the Canadians,” says Hagen with a grin. “It’s a thank you.”

The Middle Man screens Sept. 23, 8 p.m., at Cinefest.

Twitter: @SudburyStar


Tickets and key films

All My Puny Sorrows is playing at SilverCity on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. and 7:10 p.m.

Big Giant Wave is playing at SilverCity on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. and 1:10 p.m.

Charlotte is playing at SilverCity on Sunday, Sept. 19 at 4 p.m. and 4:10 p.m.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is playing at SilverCity on Sunday, Sep. 19 at 7 p.m. and 7:10 p.m.

Kicking Blood is playing at SilverCity on Sunday, Sept. 19 at 9:30 p.m. and 9:40 p.m.

Official Competition is playing at SilverCity on Monday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. and 7:10 p.m.

For the full schedule and tickets, visit

Individual tickets cost $12.50 each for virtual and in-theatre screenings. Hybrid 10-packs are available for $100.

For more information, visit Cinéfest Sudbury’s website or call 705-688-1234, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Monday to Friday.