A mother’s bond with her children is precious, and any barricade between them can be detrimental to the well being of both parties. Director Amanda Kernell’s sophomore outing Charter deals with the psychological trauma stemming from the separation of mother and child.
Amid an ugly divorce and custody battle, Alice (Ane Dahl Torp) is awoken one night by a call from her son Vincent (Troy Lundkvist) crying. Her ex-husband Mattias (Sverrir Gudnason) intercepts the call and hangs up before Alice can decern what is wrong. In fear for Vincent and her teenage daughter Elina (Tintin Poggats Sarri), Alice travels to their home, and after days of Mattias denying her access to see them picks them up from school and absconds with them for a chartered holiday in the Canary Islands.
There is much that goes unspoken in the film to its benefit. The reason that Vincent called Alice crying in the middle of the night is never expressly given. Similarly, there are indications that Elina may be at the receiving end of some sort of abuse from her father, but no matter how much she and her mom reconcile, Elina never admits her father has done anything wrong. In this way, Alice becomes a bit of an unreliable narrator. She is doing what she genuinely believes to be in the best interest of her children, but whether they need saving is never expressly stated. The only thing the film shows Mattias doing that is unquestionably wrong is attempting to kiss Alice after she has already pushed him away once.
The success of Charter rests squarely on the back of its lead actress, and Torp proves more than capable lifting the load. Separated from her children, Alice experiences extreme lows which Torp actualizes miraculously. Coupled with excellent makeup giving her heavy bags under her eyes, she expresses pain perfectly. Conversely, when Alice is reunited with her children, Torp shows how loving a mother her character can be. Between joyful karaoke sessions and loving embraces in the face of disaster, Torp delivers s full realized character.
Buoyed by an excellent lead performance, Kernell’s Charter is a devastating exploration of the pain suffered by a woman separated from her children. Narrative details are blurred just enough to paint Alice as a potentially unreliable narrator, but while the story’s reality may be intentionally opaque the adoration between the characters is real and believable. Charter is an excellent drama in every aspect.