“You can’t go home again!”
After spending time as an exchange student in Yellowknife, NT, Filmmaker Niels Holstein Kaa learns this the hard way when he returns to his hometown of Copenhagen. After developing a close bond with classmates and his exchange parents in the land of the midnight sun, Niels returns to his high school completely isolated from his former friends. “People at the school already knew each other” he says “No one wanted to hear about my amazing time in Yellowknife”
He was so along in his first year home; he had no one to celebrate New Years with. He begins his documentary Yellowknife by telling the worst New Years you will ever hear. Completely isolated, Niels drowned himself in tequila in an empty house. A trip to a nightclub only further emphasizes how alone he truly is. It only gets worst when he gets home, where he finds two men at his front door. That’s when it takes a turn for the traumatic. With just him talking, Niels gives us a brief and heartbreaking portrait of an isolated young man longing for a connection.
Even now, his life is a mess. He had a trouble breakup with Helle, with whom he’d been living with for three years. They had become distant after an abortion. He’s having trouble getting dates. He has money troubles so severe he is forced to ask his father for rent money. The phone call with his father is brutal in its unflinching honesty. In an restrained act of tough love, Niels father not only refuses to give him the money, but also tells him never to call again…for now.
In hopes of finding direction in his life and regain some happiness, Niels decides to return to Yellowknife. In that time, he will reunite with the family who took him in 10 years ago. In that time, he will return to Ecole Sir John Franklin High School, where he studied. And In that time, he will meet with old friends from high school. In that time, they all recall the wonderful memories they had, bringing joy back in Niels.
In his conversations with his former friends and exchange parents, Niels is able to convey the fond memories he has with these people. You get a sense of the bond he has with his friends as they discuss the directions their lives have taken. There are also plenty of humorous moments in the film, including his attempts to shake a tree of or the exchange mother’s story about Faye Dunaway’s breasts distracting Niels.
Adding to the fond memories is the beautiful cinematography. Whether it’s the image of Niels in the middle of a snowy wilderness or the overhead shots of suburban rooftops, the environment always feels inviting. I especially love the shot of the rooftops, which captures the exhaust from the roof lingering in the freezing air.
Throughout the trip, Niels gains a better understanding of himself. At the core of his change is his breakup with Helle. While on the trip, he realizes he is associating Copenhagen with his breakup. At first, he and his friends claimed that she was just too distant. But in a one on one conversation with here, he comes to realize he had become so withdrawn after the abortion he has little memory of life afterwards. They both tear up at the life that could have been, but they learn to accept the breakup in a surprisingly mature and understanding manner. Niels himself realizes he’s been hiding behind his relationship with Helle and will try to turn his life around. It’s hard when she seemed to be the only person he was truly in love with.
I am astounded by how much of an impact this little film had on me. These little 40 minutes demonstrated Niels has a keen ear for storytelling and an eye for beautiful imagery. The fact he can be so unflinching and brutally honest about himself shows the fearlessness needed to be a great filmmaker. I leave the theatre in hopes his life will turn around and he will achieve his dream.