Drones walk dogs, live models sauntering on treadmills show off expensive clothes in shop windows and banks in the Norwegian capital Oslo won’t let you in the door unless you pay a 350 euro ($370) fee to see a personal assistant.
Rents in the city are so astronomical that young people who can’t afford them are living illegally — and paying through the nose there as well — in squats in the city’s underground parking garages, otherwise empty after the city banned cars.
That’s a taste of what life is like in an exorbitantly expensive Oslo — or any other major European city — of the “near future” as envisioned in the hilarious, dark and thought-provoking Norwegian streaming mini-series “Arkitekten”, shown at the Berlinale film festival this week before public release.
Created by a team of young directorial and writing talents from two Norwegian film schools, the series, which runs for a brisk 75 minutes over four episodes, lost out to the Disney+ Sicilian mob series “The Good Mothers” for a new award this year for streaming content in the festival’s Series strand. But it won honourable mention and got the longest round of applause I’ve heard this year at the 10-day festival.
“Arkitekten” takes viewers to what director Kerren Lumer-Klobbers, at the screening, called a “parallel universe” — but one which doesn’t seem as distant or alien as all that.
Recent architecture graduate Julie, played by Eili Harboe, is trying to work up the career ladder at a swanky Oslo architectural firm. Meanwhile her life is disintegrating financially and the city is being overwhelmed by technology and prices spiraling out of control. Drones not only walk people’s pets, they zoom around the sky, presumably spying on everything and everyone.
In the opening scenes, Julie, who has lost her apartment because of a huge rent increase, goes to her bank to see if she can get a loan. But she can’t get past an Alexa-like computer-screening system at the entrance which knows Julie has no income and no savings. When she asks to see a human, the computer voice tells her she’d have to pay a fee, which she hasn’t got.
After that miserable start to her day, she is looking forward to a visit from her mom, who lives outside Oslo, to celebrate her birthday. But as Julie waits in a plaza, a drone hovers above her head and delivers a voice message saying that her mother couldn’t afford the train fare. The drone then lowers a small box containing her birthday gift — a single muffin.
Despite having a degree in architecture, Julie is only an intern at her firm, where she is delegated the task of serving coffee. She sees her opportunity when a competition is announced seeking plans to construct a thousand low-cost housing units in the city, for a prize of 80,000 euros. Julie realises that converting parking garages, like the one she now lives in, into single-occupant studios could be the cost-effective, “green” solution, since the structures are already there.
To win the prize, Julie must work in tandem with her recently hired, up-and-coming ex-boyfriend Marcus (Fredrik Stenberg Ditlev-Simonsen). Marcus and his pregnancy-obsessed wife Nina (Alexandra Gjerpen), look the picture of success. They have bought an apartment, but it turns out they only got it with the payout from an insurance fraud in which Nina suffered a self-inflicted knife wound that she blamed on her employers.
Julie’s design wins the contest, but with the 80,000 euro prize comes the realisation that her plan will result in the people who’ve become her friends in the garage being evicted. They include Kaja (Ingrid Giaever) who by day is the female live mannequin modeling a 1,000-euro dress on the treadmill, but off hours is a community activist who takes a metal saw to an architect-designed bench to remove ornamental features that prevent homeless people using it as a bed.
Director Lumer-Klobbers said that the series originally was envisioned with each of the four main characters having an episode, but eventually Julie’s trajectory became the central focus.
“I think it’s a story for Julie as a character that she has to discover that her values may be a bit going in the wrong direction,” she said.”At the end maybe too late she realises that she has gone with the wrong decision, but she is very much a product of her society and I can relate to her character.”