Writer and Director: Kristoffer Borgli
With an emphasis on the dark, Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli’s Sick of Myself may be in the Laugh strand at this year’s London Film Festival but this dark comedy piles on the tragedy. With its themes of narcissism, mental health and the extremes the heroine will go to harm herself, Borgli creates humorous and eye-opening scenarios but never trivialises the problems that the character inflicts. Keen not to make her a victim Signe’s active decisions are nonetheless explored in all their complexity.
Jealous of the attention being received by artist boyfriend Thomas opening an off-shoot exhibition at a prestigious gallery, Signe tries to move the focus back to herself by feigning illness and medical trauma to gain sympathy. Caught up in a serious injury to a stranger at her café, Signe soon craves a bigger limelight and chances across some illegal medication that gets her exactly what she wants.
Funny or not, Sick of Myself, is an interesting drama in its own right, exploring why an otherwise normal and attractive woman would purposefully induce medical problems and, with the onset of unpleasant physical symptoms, why Signe would continue to ingest what is essentially a poison. Psychologically, Borgli explores the underlying fragility in Signe, an attempt to unpick a feeling of disorientation or jealousy at the success of others that suggests a character who is lost and afraid of what fame might do to her relationship with Thomas. In that sense, Sick of Myself is a useful exploratory study of why someone would work against their own best interests.
And credit to designer Izzi Galindo who develops a series of facial prosthetics worn by lead actor Kristine Kujath Thorp showing her face and neck primarily at different stages of inflammation and reaction to the medication. Often, these are graphic welts and scarring that look convincing on screen, helping to physically create a mask behind which Signe’s true vulnerability is hidden and even though she is barely able to acknowledge what she is doing to herself, it gives the audience a physical marker of her distorted thoughts.
The surrounding subplots could be stronger, and we get little insight into Thomas (Eirik Sæther) why he stays with Signe through these assaults on herself, especially when he gives every indication of knowing precisely what she is doing. The strand about Thomas obsessively stealing chairs for their flat and using them in his artwork relates to the opening scenes at an expensive restaurant but neither particularly contributes much to the story nor explains Thomas’s outlook, while a little more time with Signe’s friends could help to send their own frustrations with her neediness.
Kujath Thorp is very impressive as Signe, playing it straight and mostly outraged at the lack of feeling in others which is interesting to watch particularly as she learns to manipulate the responses of strangers. The growing fear about what she is doing to herself is well balanced with the compulsion to maintain the attention and sympathy of others, and Borgli depicts Signe’s almost total lack of either self-awareness or the effect she has on others.
Aside from a few amusing fantasy sequences in which Signe dreams of the perfect outcome at several points in the story, Sick of Myself is primarily a dramatic film with touches of very bleak humour. It is none the worse for that categorisation and Borgli’s sometime shocking vision is well worth exploring.
Sick of Myself is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.