Bliss! is aimed at teenage audiences. It effectively captures the dreamlike quality of adolescence, fantasy and longing. Tasha Robson (Freya Parks), a 16-year-old from South Shields in England, leaves her turbulent family life and travels to Bergen in Norway in search of her absent father. Like most teenagers, she is unsure of her identity and who she wants to be, rebelling against adult authority figures while at the same time desperately craving the security of a father-figure.
Bliss! is director Rita Osei’s first feature and she fills the story with wide and beautiful aerial shots of the British and Norwegian landscapes. The cinematography of the locations is so spectacular that it is hard not to feel as if you are watching a tourist advert for North East England or Scandinavia. Tasha walks through the historic centre of Bergen, frolics on a wide sunny English beach and even sails through a gigantic, lush green fjord. The slow moving shots through the majestic landscape, coupled by Freya Parks’ own singing and dreamy performance gives the film a fairy tale-like quality. The cinematographer is Richard Stoddard, known for his work on the TV series Hinterland, a show in which characters similarly wander around beautiful, rural landscapes, primarily in Wales.
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Alex Ferguson wrote the script for Bliss! based on his award winning play of the same name. The story has plenty of potential. There have long been links between the North East of England and Scandinavia. Both areas are made up of sea-fearing communities and some place names on the English coast are even influenced by the Nordic language, so it seems natural to combine the two cultures in a film. There is a nice comparison between the calm and stoic demeanour of the Norwegians in direct contrast with the chaotic and emotional family life of Tasha’s fractured home life back in England.
Tasha is a mix of both worlds, navigating her hometown with confidence and yet also finding herself at ease in the fjords of Norway. She is wild, naive, impulsive and brave, exactly how you would imagine the daughter of a Viking! There are plenty of stories told about boys searching for their fathers, so it is refreshing to see a film in which a girl sets out on such a quest instead. Her journey to find her father is uplifting but wisely steers clear of being overly sentimental.
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Despite Ferguson’s realistic portrayal of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, the story fails to work in the rest of the film. When the action leaves Tasha and focuses on the rest of her family, the film suffers. Characters are not clearly defined enough especially in their connection to Tasha’s family. Family members walk in and out of scenes, their dialogue sparse and stiffly delivered. The film lacks tension during arguments and scenes of conflict, with precarious situations failing to feel threatening or very realistic. Scenes are oddly edited together, one following on from another without logical reason or explanation. Perhaps the biggest weakness is the intrusive soundtrack, which jars against the slow dream-like quality of the cinematography, jolting the viewer out of the story and reminding the audience that they are watching a film.
Bliss! feels more like a picture book than a movie. The story is told more in images than in dialogue. At times it feels overly long with the story dragging out further than required. It is the central performance by Freya Parks that gives the film its real spark. Her portrayal of the defiant and imaginative Tasha could arguably be seen as an attempt to inspire young girls and women to stand up for themselves.
Ultimately Bliss! is a gentle film that may fail to engage with adult audiences, but it will probably resonate with pre-teens and teenagers.
Bliss! releases on VOD today and you can check out the trailer below.