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This rare moment in Norwegian film history is more notable for its ambition, extravaganza and unorthodox combination of futuristic sci-fi motifs and recognizable theatrical melodrama than for its overall quality. Based on the novel "Uår" by Knut Faldbakken, one of the most important modern Norwegian writers, Sweetwater discusses classic post-apocalyptic cold-war era themes such as social collapse, anarchy and primitivization, as a young couple and their son is driven out of the chaotic, war-burdened city of Sweetwater to find regufe in the fringes of the city's dump site. Here they encounter different outcasts of the collapsed society.
The average budget of a Norwegian film from the 1980s would suggest that a film as visually ambitious as Sweetwater would be hard to shoot, but the filmmakers have been wise and skillful in their choice of sets and locations, and director Glomm uses what he has got to the best effect. His elaborate prelude features numerous static images of the results of the destruction and mayhem, and throughout he proves that he is a good composer of images, if not the best narrator. The film's production design desperately wants to emulate its contemporary Hollywood brothers (see the choice of cars, for instance) and this gives the film a somewhat vapid taste in the segments which Glomm struggles to make effective, such as some of the more speculative drama early on, or a handful of action sequences (the violence is badly exaggerated).
The result is a film which struggles with narrative coherence, but ultimately has a lot to offer when it comes to the atmospheric and the descriptive. For all its flaws and shortcomings, Sweetwater is a poetic piece based on a literary work with obvious strength in characterizations and vision. The acting ranges from lacklustre to brilliant. Per Jansen has abundances of theatrical experience and ability, but his acting here is too self-conscious and overdone, whereas Petronella Barker struggles in the quiet, simpler scenes, but comes to life in the crowded sequences. It is, however, an enigmatically handsome Bjørn Sundquist and a delightfully abstruse Sverre Anker Ousdal who give the film the extra seasoning. A film which works best in its non-narrative segments, such as a harrowing scene in which this peculiar crowd share a piece of meat around a fire.