Film Review: a-ha: The Movie

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Thomas Robsahm

Directors: Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm

It’s unlikely that a-ha: The Movie will garner the Norwegian band any new fans. a-ha are best known for the synth driven Take On Me of 1985, but this documentary is keen to present the band in darker, more melancholic tones in perhaps a homage to Scandi Noir. Instead of celebrating the band, director Thomas Robsahm seems determined to show the bitter rifts that run through a-ha’s 40-year history. It makes for gloomy viewing.

Since their debut album Hunting High and Low, a-ha has always being trying to be a different kind of band, a band that is creative and which is known for taking risks. In Manhattan Skyline from their second album, the band forged two songs together taking, one of the three members says, their inspiration from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. America didn’t like this new arty sound and as quickly as a-ha had conquered The States the band was sent packing back to Europe.

Their third album was a step back to pop, and the members embraced their new identities as teen idols, agreeing to every pointless photo shoot that was offered. Magazines like the UK’s Smash Hits promoted lead singer Morten Harket’s chiselled face, and toned body, which was always visible from the sleeveless shirts that he favoured in the late 80s. One reporter even asks him to take off his top during an interview. The two other members – guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen on keyboards – were happy to fade into the background.

However, in this film Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmen take centre stage, and Harket remains an enigma. While Robsahm’s film starts in 2018, showing a-ha touring, all dressed in black like the rock stars they always thought they were, the group’s story is told in detailed chronology, so detailed that the film is destined for hardcore fans rather than the casual viewer. Their childhoods and influences are explored comprehensively, but the film picks up when the band travel to London in an effort to become famous. Not getting the instant success they thought they deserved, they are forced to rent less swanky digs and one photo shows them standing proudly next to a heap of rubbish outside their newest flat.

But this is no rags-to-riches paradigm. Instead, Robsahm concentrates on their early disagreements. We discover that Furuholmen was actually a guitarist, too, but that Waaktaar-Savoy persuaded him to play keyboards instead. Waaktaar-Savoy suggests that Furuholmen took the change of instrument like a duck takes to water, but Furuholmen remembers it differently. Their arguments continue into the 21st century with Furuholmen struggling to be given writing credits.

In the present, Robsahm perseveres in showing the distance between the members of the band. In the green room, Furuholmen sits quietly reading a book, while Waaktaar-Savoy eats as he gazes out of a window. Harket appears to be in his own room or in his own limousine being ferried to and from the concert arenas. His looks have not deserted him, but now he is swarthy rather than cute. This documentary tells us nothing of his private life, and without these elements he remains an elusive figure. At stage doors and meet-and-greets, Harket signs autographs and poses for selfies with ease, but back in his car he quickly grabs the hand-sanitizer, and this is before Covid. He’s like a god among mortals.

We rarely see the band happy, and the pictures of them smiling for camera in the 80s now seem tinged with sadness and recrimination. In the film they are reluctant to go back into the studio to record any new songs, but since the film was completed they have produced a new album, True North, which is a collection of orchestral versions of their songs, including, at least, two new ones. One talking head suggests that a-ha’s best songs are still to come, but if this is true it’s certain that we won’t be dancing to them like we were in 1985.

a-ha: The Movie is released in UK and Irish cinemas on 20 May.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Scandi Noir

The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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