Film Reviews

Hot Docs Review: ‘All That I Am’

Elusive but effective

Courtesy of Hot Docs


All that I Am
(Norway, 75 min)
Dir. Tone Grøttjord-Glenne
Programme: International Spectrum

All that I Am begins with a voice speaking of a dark past over images of gently falling snow. The narrator wonders what it will be like to return home and speak to her siblings about a traumatic event. Her story is elusive and vague. We soon find that the voice belongs to young Emilie, whose long brown hair and sad eyes often provide a cover for the rawness of her pain.

Grøttjord-Glenne’s film doesn’t immediately announce what actually happened to Emilie, so audiences who haven’t prepared themselves by reading program notes might experience an ongoing sense of dread while watching her attend court proceedings or while witnessing the genuine horror in her face when she recognizes her perpetrator in court. One fears the worst, and it is as bad as one can expect. The details of what transpired and the effects the event had on the young girl are doled out sporadically over the film’s running time.

Local audiences may find themselves both frustrated and fascinated by the vagaries of the Norwegian system. It’s all very different than it is here, focussing far more on rehabilitation for both victim and victimizer. Norway’s unfamiliar criminal justice system and support networks make the experience of witnessing Emilie’s journey disquieting as one navigates these elements with one’s Canadian prejudices about how justice should be meted out in cases like this. We share Emile’s discomfort as she addresses her past, but we equally empathise with those trying to succor her. These helpers appear gormless, doing their best in professional and well-rehearsed ways despite no direct experience with the trauma that continues to hamper Emile’s emotional well-being.

The film is most incisive when it deals with an unanswerable question: how can one prepare for adulthood when one’s childhood has been ripped away? Quotidian things like graduating school or hunting for a job seem all the more banal against this greater backdrop of anger and abuse. However, as Emile must come to terms with her future, so too are we guided along on her journey to accept and move on in whatever way is possible.

Emile’s struggle to tell the truth to her stepsiblings is a core element of the film and provides the clearest through line for the tale. Grøttjord-Glenne’s doc is almost mercilessly focussed on Emile with her reactions to the lens providing us with raw emotional moments. This intimacy is not always effective, and the film can feel both invasive and coy about its narrative, as if withholding information from the audience can generate suspense. Equally, there are times when a wider perspective might actually prove more illuminating, making things less guarded as Emile too often turns inward.

While All that I Am feels a bit uneven, there’s no denying the calibre of the unique and powerful character at the heart of the film. Emile’s story is one shared by far too many, yet the way she is allowed to tell it, in dribs and drabs as she comes to terms with all that has transpired, is quite impactful.

All that I Am screens at Hot Docs’ online festival.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.