The Tent

By Rebecca Figenschau | Drama
A dysfunctional family tries to assemble a tent while on a camping trip.

Bjornar, his wife Solveig and his two children head out to the woods to enjoy a family camping trip. But when they try to put up their complicated tent — and Bjarnar accidentally burns the instruction manual in the fire — it begins the trip on a sour note.

As the family wrestles with the tent, submerged tensions between the members come to the surface. Bjornar and Solveig get into a spat, and their young teen daughter acts up, along with their naughty little boy. This idyllic family trip starts to look anything but, and when conflict erupts, it forces difficult truths into the open.

Written and directed by Rebecca Figenschau, this incisive drama is a study in familial dysfunction, and how it can ripple from parents to children. With insightful, sensitive storytelling and observant directing, it captures a seismic shift in one family’s emotional life, with both a coolly perceptive eye and a dry sense of humor.

The strength of the film lies in its patient observation of characters within a uniquely isolated, uncomfortable situation, with no outlets for escapism or avoidance. As the family arrives in the lovely natural setting — captured in luminous cinematography and camerawork — we seem to expect a warm, enjoyable family outing full of bonding and connection. That’s the intent for Bjornar and Solveig as well, who want their kids to focus on being together, not their phones.

But as the family wrestles with a difficult tent, and then a surly teen and a mischievous child begin to act up, these expectations begin to curdle. The camera adopts a naturalistic style throughout, though it remains somewhat distant from individual members of the family, focusing instead of the disconnected way they share the frame of the image. The dialogue, too, becomes more and more strained, with both parental figures dancing around a central point of tension as their tent — and their children, and patience with one another — proves more and more difficult.

Actors Sigurd Myhre and Christina Nikolaisen as Bjornar and Solveig respectively, deftly portray this difficult pas de deux, as a tug-of-war between two poles: one desperately trying to put a good spin on what is emerging as a bad situation, and another who is fed up with keeping up appearances, especially when it comes at the expense of the truth. But as the conflict ratchets up between husband and wife, the camera moves in closer — and what emerges with the rise in tension is a secret both shocking and ludicrous in equal measure.

The build-up in “The Tent” is strained and edgy enough that it might suggest a seething menace at some points. The actual reveal, though emotionally violent, is more pathetic, and in its irony, also more than a little funny. And the lingering impression of this portrait of family dysfunction — and the role that avoiding open discussion — resonates, as does the final fate of the tent. The parents had good intentions in covering up their conflict to protect their kids. But that suppression of uncomfortable truths and emotions has the effect of creating more tension — and becomes the ultimate lesson in the value of open communication and honesty, even if it comes at the expense of our egos.

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