Love upends the plans of three teenage friends longing to escape a Norwegian centre for young asylum seekers in Hisham Zaman’s equally funny and poignant third feature.
A Happy Day
The vast frigid landscapes and imposing mountains of Norway’s north provide formidable obstacles to the young characters who long to escape the asylum centre for unaccompanied minors portrayed in Hisham Zaman’s bittersweet third feature.
It’s no surprise that Hamid (Salah Qadi), Aras (Ravand Ali Taha), and Ismail (Mohamed Salah) — three friends with big dreams about the haven they hope to find beyond the snow and ice — don’t get very far before they’re picked up by the local police. Indeed, their futile efforts have become a sort of empty ritual, much like the oddly cheerful 18th birthday parties the centre throws for their teenage residents before commencing with their deportation orders.
Yet for all the uncertainty and sadness that inform the trio’s situation, Zaman presents their lot with a sense of wry humour and gentle absurdism, qualities that A Happy Day shares with the films of Aki Kaurismäki and Otar Iosseliani. Even more surprising are the traces of classic Hollywood teen movies that emerge after Hamid meets rebellious newcomer Aida (Sarah Aman Mentzoni) and they begin a tender, star-crossed romance that jeopardizes the pals’ escape plan.
Drawing from his own experiences as a refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan and working with an extraordinary cast of new discoveries, Zaman finds an utterly fresh and unconventional means to portray the lives and hopes of young asylum seekers. While A Happy Day certainly conveys the despair and anxiety that exists in its characters’ lives, it’s just as vivid as a celebration of their resilience and uniqueness, too.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: sexual innuendo