Filmmaker Joost van der Wiel's look at Nils Leidal, self-exiled but still active on social media, wastes an intriguing premise
A man posts a video to his personal Facebook page. He is standing in a snowy city street, declaring his independence from the Norwegian state, and his right to live “without interference” alone in the depths of the mountainous countryside. The transition of Nils Leidal as a man who once shared his family holiday photos online to somebody embracing solitude and simplicity is only explored at the very beginning of Joost van der Wiel’s Drømmeland, as we catch glimpses of his social media.
But the film’s thesis isn’t an examination of the conditions behind this (seemingly) drastic separation from conventional society, nor is it focused on the harsh realities of off-grid habitation. Instead it finds the character of Nils as an oddity – as a spectacle to be voyeuristically gazed upon.
There is a more interesting film to be pieced together from the fleeting glimpses given in Drømmeland, one about a man who claims to reject the constraints of modern society and the intrusive, panopticon surveillance aided by technology, but still remains attached to the smartphone that hangs from his wall, allowing him to post updates, photos, and poems to an increasingly devoted fanbase. There is a story of isolation, familial estrangement, and the relationship between Nils and his lover, who is apparently caught in the midst of a complicated separation with her husband. But it's a conversation where Nils’ side is the only one that is heard.
Instead, van der Wiel chooses to focus on the parts of Nils’ behaviour that are evocative of a simplified perspective of back-to-nature living: ice baths, chopping down firewood, hunting. Drone shots capture the seasonal beauty of the Norwegian mountains, occasionally intrusive in their construction, as Nils rides his horse across the valley, positioning him as a lone ranger fighting for his version of a better world.
It is a shame, therefore, that the actual moments of intrigue that emerge around Nils’ dedication to the cause he vocally supports but does not fully live out, not to mention his growing army of fans, are only every notionally examined in a film that fails to dig beneath the surface.
Drømmeland is released on 31 March on True Story.Where to watch