Published Sep 01, 2001With more pure suffering per frame than any movie (European or otherwise) I've seen in ages, "Misery Harbour" lives up to its name. Surprisingly, it's not as oppressive and dismal as it sounds. The story takes place in the early 1930s and follows the travails of young Espen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) a Danish factory worker who flees from a bleak life of hardship in Denmark and makes his way on a merchant ship to Newfoundland, where he finds a life of even greater hardship, gutting fish and working at a logging camp in the dead of winter. Everything conspires against him, from fate and chance to the elements themselves. He even has a rival (played menacingly by Stuart Graham) who seems to hate him for some primal reason and who always seems to show up just to frame Espen for one crime or another or steal away whatever woman he has his eye on.
"Misery Harbour" is a Canadian-Scandinavian co-production and it's interesting the way it seamlessly transfers that Nordic gloominess to the shores of Newfoundland. But the film never really wallows in despair, and that's probably thanks to the dogged resiliency of its main character. Espen is no masochist, and we see what he makes of himself in the flash-forwards that are interspersed throughout the story. He's become a writer, circulating in the well-heeled society of Oslo, and the first time we see him, he gets provoked into taking a knife to the throat of a smarmy book critic. Now there's a sure-fire way of getting the audience on your side.