As the 50th Edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam continues, we keep making new acquaintances with great minds and Itonje Søimer Guttormsen is one of them, gracing us with her first feature film Gritt (2020) about a subject that is not at all new to her. Gritt presents in a way, a glimpse of all the artistic creations that Guttormsen has been doing for the last decade, and every one of them is, at least to me, unprecedented enterprises.
Gritt tells the story of Gry-Jeanette (who would correct me by saying: “It’s Gritt”), an artistic mind with many great ideas about art projects, art installations but mostly, “artistic rituals”. The main project that she’s promoting is entitled “White Inflammation”, a massive collective performance that unfortunately nobody’s excited about. According to the story she left Norway 17 years ago, searching for career opportunities in Hollywood and Berlin, and when she comes back to Norway with all new projects in her mind, she fails to find intellectual and financial support from Norway’s theatre companies, both state owned and private.
Gritt is portrayed by the very talented, Hedda prize winner (Best actress, 2007) actress Brigitte Larsen who is active in both theatre and cinema. She’s also a collaborator in some of the projects of Itonje Søimer Guttormsen, the most recent one (aside Gritt, of course) being a 2017 short film directed by Guttormsen: Retract (Retrett). Retract is also a significant example if we’re talking about Gritt, because in Retrett, Brigitte Larsen gives life to the character Gritt and the subject matter of this short feature is almost identical to Gritt (2020). So in a way, Brigitte Larsen plays Gritt for the second time.
Bureaucracy, Paperwork, Social Norms
In the movie, we witness Gritt’s frustration about the bureaucracy every institution requires and executes, which is very relatable for the spectators, in daily life we all come across this sort of unreasonable paperwork requirements, the best example from my experiences is maybe when I was told to fill an online form if I want to apply for an internet connection service (!). But there’s much more to the fact that Gritt doesn’t want to “play by the rules”. Under all her decisions, lies a strong sense of freedom and a stance against the norms of the society.
The etymology of “normal” is very frustrating if you think about it: “in conformity with the rules, with the norms”. And who makes the rules, one might ask. In the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, “living alone in a cottage in the woods” was never “normal”, especially for a woman. And this was enough for an intelligent, capable and ahead-of-its-time woman to be accused of being a witch, and gruesome consequences would ensue. This reference is given poetically towards the end of the movie, when Gritt moves in to a cabin in the woods by herself.
But as mentioned above, Gritt’s refusal of “playing by the book” has a deeper meaning underneath, which is her being a lone wolf, so to speak. She is independent, free minded and she hates the fact that one has to ask for permission before doing something beautiful. She doesn’t think that she’s above the norms, she thinks that norms shouldn’t exist altogether and needless to say, she’s aware that it’s not practical, nor possible. The brilliant actress Marte Wexelsen Goksøyr, portraying Marte, a director and actress with down syndrome, tells Gritt exactly that: Social norms “expects” a level of incapacity from someone with down syndrome, but she wants to shock the audience by showing them the exact opposite of their beliefs or expectations.
Lilith and Guttormsen’s “Lilithistene”
In mythology and history of religions, Lilith is shortly described as “Adam’s first wife”; but there’s much more to say about the intellectual baggage that Lilith carries. First, according to Jewish folklore, Lilith was “cast at the same time and from the same clay of Adam”, which creates a whole world of gender equality, unlike Eve which is created, according to the Genesis, “from one of Adam’s ribs”. A second point is that Lilith wasn’t “cast away” from the Garden of Eden like Adam and Eve, she simply left by her own free will. So to say the least, Lilith means “gender equality” and “free will”, which are two important starting points for Itonje Søimer Guttormsen’s many art projects, shaping around the concept of “lilithistic method”. You can learn about the projects and ritualistic performances of Itonje Søimer Guttormsen at her website (in English) by clicking here.
All in all, Gritt is a glimpse of Guttormsen’s artistic, lilithistic stance if we learn to read the crumbles she lays carefully in the visual and verbal narrative of her film and this glimpse is already too much to handle. Gritt invites the spectators to think about the key elements when we try to understand our world; just like the 18th century philosophers in France, Guttormsen’s feature makes us question the social norms and rules, even the truths that we keep close to our hearts. Highly recommended.