Berlinale 2021 review: Ninjababy (Yngvild Sve Flikke)

Rakel is an illustrator flailing through her mid-20s and basking in independence that affords her a life of no-strings-attached sex, Aikido classes, drinking, drugs and drawing. Only when her roommate Ingrid (Tora Christine Dietrichson, in her debut feature performance) comments on Rakel’s strange sense of smell, bodily bizarreness, constant fruit nectar consumption and growing chest, does the realization set in that her life could be altered. A pregnancy test confirms and an era ends. As the test results come in she thinks of options for her future in an animated interlude called 5 Things Rakel Wants to Be. An astronaut, a beer taster, a globe trotter, a forest ranger and/or a comic artist all sound good, but being a mother doesn’t.

Rakel reflects on her latest hook-up, which happened to be with her Aikido instructor. Mos (played sweetly by Nader Khademi) is a decent candidate for fatherhood: gentle in nature, smells like butter, gives rides to the clinic and has sperm that doesn’t adhere to the science of condoms or birth control. But the solution to Rakel’s problem is self-evident: she’s going to get an abortion and it can’t happen soon enough. That is until she learns that the pregnancy is more than six months along the way, entangling her in a classic Mamma Mia scenario of paternal identity mystery, as Ingrid sees it. With the reality that she’ll have to carry the pregnancy to term sinking in, one night while drawing, Rakel is visited by a two-dimensional Ninjababy on her sketchpad.

The film, adapted from Inga Sætre’s graphic novel Fallteknikk, employs the artist and utilizes overlaid, hand-drawn illustrations to explore Rakel’s psyche. Doodled flourishes occur throughout in the form of flashbacks and bouts of dissociation, but Ninjababy, named after his sneaky, second-trimester discovery, visits Rakel often, charming her and trying to help her work out what she wants in life and his own future. Rakel is complicated though, she’s not always tied down to conventions of manners and courtesy and can come off quite brash when put in a corner. Rising talent Kristine Kujath Thorp performs excellently in a role full of contradictions: Rakel develops a deep care for her unborn Ninjababy, yet struggles with maternal feelings. She feels unencumbered by gender expectations, yet is confronted with them every step of the way. She’s forced to put the pieces together for her offspring’s impending life, taking the decisions into her own hands while a growing number of voices vie to be part of the village it takes to raise a child, as the saying goes.

The web of possible parents expands as the true baby daddy, one unready man known colloquially as ‘Dick Jesus’ (a brooding, assholish Arthur Berning) comes into play, as does Rakel’s older sister Mie (singer Silya Nymoen). Despite the abbreviated period to make preparations and the inherent drama of the situation, the film is chiefly wholesome and tender, perhaps informing the programming in Berlinale’s Generation 14plus section. The sophomore film from Yngvild Sve Flikke, whose debut Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts also finds a young woman pregnant while on the precipice of discovery, is confidently directed, clever and courageous but also totally in control of its materials and multi-disciplinary nature. In less steady hands the comedy brought with the animation could read as juvenile or twee, but Flikke’s film is youthful, artistically curious and messily sincere.