Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Journey To Greenland’ and ‘Thicker Than Water’


Cross-cultural stories have become harder to put onto film as awareness has risen about the offensive tropes such narratives cling to. If it’s not the white-person-as-savior chestnut, then it’s the magic foreigner one. We’ve become so accustomed to those cliches that they seem reasonable as if they somehow reflect any of our real experiences in unknown places.

“Journey to Greenland” somehow gets it right. It strikes a tone that is most reminiscent of the 1983 film “Local Hero,” but even without the sentimentality, that film offered. Following two French guys named Thomas, who happen to be played by Thomas Blanchard and Thomas Scimeca, and who also happen to be actors just like the actors playing them,” Journey to Greenland” places its gentle action in the village of Kullorsuaq, where one of the Thomas’ dad (Fran ois Chattot) has settled with an Inuit tribe for the previous two decades.

So here we have two generations of European men arriving at a remote village in Greenland, and over the next couple hours we are not going to see any tiresome trope play out, but people from two different cultures feel each other out and try to get to know each other despite a language barrier. Part of the plot unfolds through attempts by the Thomases to leap into the culture, and though they fumble, it’s never presented as humiliating. The locals are funny, but never condescendingly so. Everyone’s pretty sincere with each other, and the movie attains a level of honest humanity, thanks to the non-actors in the Inuit roles.

The plot is slight, but that’s central to what the film is telling you. Amidst the smaller moments, there’s not just humor, but heartbreak, and just by soaking in the quiet quality and existing in the moment, so many aspects of so many characters’ lives unfold. Narratively, this is an antidote to most of what is embraced in film nowadays in favor of contemplation and reflection in experiencing life and art.


Though it’s the Nordic noir that has made a splash internationally, I wish more love was given to their family dramas, which often bring the same darkness to the presentation, but with less stark lines drawn between good and evil. For many of these shows — like “The Legacy” from Denmark and “Frikjent” from Norway, both engrossing — there’s an “Ingmar Bergman-like” aspect, which is probably a little unfair, but also a compliment.

“Thicker Than Water”( (“Tjockare n vatten”) is a Swedish production set in the land Islands, focusing on a traditional family-run guest house, where the death of the mother brings out all sorts of old resentments and genuinely dark family secrets.

It’s brother Oskar (Joel Spira) who has run the guesthouse with their mother for years while his siblings escaped to live apart from the dysfunction. Sister Jonna (Aliette Opheim) is an actress centered on her career and largely protected from the family’s worst aspects, while Lasse (Bj rn Bengtsson) brings with him a criminal element and damaging previous transgressions that he is weak enough to act out again.

Several factors collide together when the siblings are forced to operate the guesthouse together, most notably revolving around secrets Oskar has kept to himself for years that have probably given some semblance of stability to the broken family — or at least less to massacre each other over.”Thicker Than Water” has that foreign show bonus of providing a fascinating insight into Swedish cultural norms, but it uses this element well in undercutting the nostalgia with the reality of lives lived.

Much like Bergman ripped through the veneer of respectability to get inside the horror of people’s heads, “Thicker Than Water” reveals that the definition of family may be a collection of those who betray and hurt each other, but are willing to overlook the ugliness. No detective is needed here to parse good and evil, since this show understands we are all a little of both, and we create groups that fueled by that reality if only we could acknowledge that to each other.

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