There’s a quote in the brilliantly titled play “The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loves in the Former Soviet Union” that, to paraphrase, goes like this: There will come a time when every story known to us has been retold set in an American high school. When first performed we were in the middle of a run that reached its peak with Taming of the Shrew reset as Ten Things I Hate About You. Which is a long winded way of saying I’m a sucker for teen movies with an interest in saying something. And, completely, unrelated, I am a sucker for dance. And that brings us neatly to Norwegian-on-Netflix film, Battle.
Do I even need to say that Battle is about finding out who you are and being true to that? Amalie, is a rich girl in a group of rich kids who are dance together. Formal and stylised, they follow the rules and struggle not because they don’t know the moves but because they don’t know what they want to communicate. They are watched over by Birgitta who swears a lot and offers them the chance of a scholarship to the Netherlands. Amalie’s, and everyone’s, rival is Charlotte who, because this is a 90 minute film with lots of breaks for dancing, is just there to be that rival and not much else.
The plot, such as it is, is that Amalie’s cossetted life is torn apart thanks to her father getting into debt. Thus, they are turfed out of their lovely home and thrown into a crap flat on the bad side of town. There Amalie falls in with Mikael and his friends who dance from the heart. Our heroine falls head over heals for Mikael but can’t admit it to herself, or to her ridiculously patient posh boyfriend Aksel.
Will Amalie realise that she can be true to herself and achieve her dreams even if that means sacrificing superficial pleasures? What do you think?
My flippancy does Battle a disservice. Like a Raymond Carver short story, it’s hard to get this kind of simplicity right. And Battle gets everything right. It’s a really fun ride and, whilst it does nothing really new, is a compelling watch throughout.
Katarina Launing directs Maja Lunde’s script, bringing out the contrast between rich and poor, immigrant and settled, formal and free, for all its worth. Lisa Teige as Amalie is excellent and Fabian Svergaard Tapia as Mikael works well as her foil.
Sure, there will be deeper films and stories whose complexity requires a dozen fan sites to decode their meaning. Sometimes that’s not what you need. Sometimes, you just need to watch people dance and understand everything through their movement. Battle knows that and does its job well. If you have ninety minutes to kill and want to cheer at the end, watch it.