Cannes 2022 review: Sick of Myself (Kristoffer Borgli)

“A peculiar but riveting dark comedy that uses common romantic tropes in an increasingly bizarre but effective way, Sick of Myself is a remarkable addition to the career of a promising young director.”

Certain films exist to shock the viewer without reason, others convey a very deep message about the social structures that define our contemporary world. It is sometimes difficult to situate Sick of Myself (the ambitious film by Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli in his second feature-length directorial outing) under either category, since this is clearly a film with a much more complex meaning, but its methods of getting there are questionable, albeit in the best way possible. Constructed around the story of a young couple living and working in Oslo (which has become one of the more fascinating cities for contemporary cinema, as we have seen in recent years), the film focuses on their efforts to remain lovers, despite the fact that they hold a very deep hostility for one another, to the point where the audience begins to wonder whether they actually are together just for the sake of convenience or status. A peculiar but riveting dark comedy that uses common romantic tropes in an increasingly bizarre but effective way, Sick of Myself is a remarkable addition to the career of a promising young director.

The most succinct way to view Sick of Myself at the outset is as a playfully subversive, Bergmanesque view of a failing relationship that gradually begins to surrender to a bewildering absurdity which would be unwieldy in the hands of someone without the precise vision to look at the more complex sides of the story. The film focuses around the character of Signe (played by Kristine Kujath Thorp in a truly impressive performance likely to be amongst the most simultaneously hilarious and terrifying we will see this year) and looks at her tense and contentious relationship with her boyfriend, who is far more popular and successful, to the point where she begins to mangle her body for the sake of getting attention. This method works, as the film looks at the other side of this process, giving us a glimpse into a relationship that is less about romance and more about competition. This is not healthy in any scenario, which is the primary impetus for the complex discussions that reside at the heart of the film, and which the director explores in a series of carefully curated moments.

Considering the subject matter, it is only logical that Sick of Myself has a very distinct and disturbing tone, which Borgli uses to construct this deranged but captivating, character-driven dark comedy. The bitterly caustic sense of humour serves to underline the brutal hypocrisy of modern society, and the director finds creative ways to push the boundaries of good taste, which means coming into very close contact with an almost visceral sense of courting controversy. The film functions as a perverted parable, using the human body as an objective means of rebellion, something to be mangled and manipulated for the sake of sending a message. Borgli is drawing heavily on some of the primary tenets of performance art, filtering it through a more socially conscious lens, which allows for an insightful conversation on the nature of what true beauty is. The film is remarkably cynical, and refuses to aim for the low-hanging fruit that would normally end with the resolution that everyone, regardless of appearance, is beautiful – instead, it looks at it from a radically different perspective, which allows Sick of Myself to be a much more vigorous and fascinating character study.

Sick of Myself is a challenging film, but it certainly earns the right to have such bold and ostentatious conversations, since the subject matter may border on grotesque, but there is an abundance of depth that makes up for the intentional uneasiness that comes packaged with the story. The director balances the tricky tone exceptionally well, and provides the viewer with an unforgettable series of images that linger long after the film has ended, which will likely stir and provoke conversation around the complex themes embedded at the heart of the story. Anchored by an exceptionally strong performance, and told in the stark and confrontational style that we have grown to expect from Scandinavian cinema, the film is a masterful achievement in socially-charged storytelling. It does not shrink from making the viewer uncomfortable, but rather uses that discomfort as a powerful tool to evoke some strong emotions, which is undeniably going to make this one of the year’s more brilliantly disruptive works.