Metro Weekly

‘Norwegian Dream’ Review: Reel Affirmations 2023

Rarely is young LGBTQ love depicted with such quiet assuredness as in this standout international feature.

Young love is a well-trodden theme in LGBTQ cinema, but rarely is it depicted with such quiet assuredness as in this standout international feature.

Norwegian Dream (★★★★★, CRITIC’S PICK) centers on 19-year-old Robert (a dazzling Hubert Milkowski), the latest Polish immigrant to land on the Norwegian island of Sotra and the newest worker at a fish factory already stuffed to the gills with Polish transplants.

We’re offered little information as wide-eyed Robert is put into his uniform and assigned a mentor, Ivar (Karl Bekele Steinland), who gets him up to speed with the cutting and gutting.

The film’s trajectory becomes clear when Robert’s Polish comrades, led by roommate Marek (Jakub Seirenberg), tease and make racist jokes about Ivar as he dances in the factory car park during a break.

Robert hangs back, studying Ivar with barely concealed intrigue, a trend that continues into the group’s raucous night out after a long shift. Robert drinks and watches Ivar — a gaze that is returned when the alcohol takes over and Robert breaks out of his shell just enough to let loose on the dancefloor.

You can probably guess where this is going, but don’t let the familiar “young love in a tough place” narrative fool you. Yes, Robert is struggling with the homophobia of his home country, and the potential threat that any one of his Polish roommates could display similar traits. And when Ivar turns out to be the factory-owner’s adopted son, it’s clear there’s a class divide at play as well.

However, rather than give into schmaltz, writers Justyna Bilik, Gjermund Gisvold, and Radoslaw Paczocha have instead crafted a substantive, multi-threaded narrative that quickly fleshes out Robert’s troubled backstory.

There’s the potential budding love story with Ivar at the film’s center, of course, but the film gradually introduces an impending strike by the factory’s mistreated migrant workers, alongside the imminent arrival of Robert’s mother, similarly seeking to escape Poland and only adding to his woes.

Throughout all of this, Milkowski delivers a powerful performance, carrying the film on a wave of carefully restrained emotion. The actor’s expressive eyes wordlessly convey the anguish churning within the young man as he negotiates multiple warring issues at once, carefully choosing when to be himself and when to retreat to his internal safe space.

A standout moment comes when Ivar convinces Robert to be his DJ for what transpires to be a drag show, with Ivar as the star. Milkowski convinces thoroughly as a young man tentatively stepping into new — and potentially safe — territory, as brooding gives way to joy, and then develops into palpable longing as Robert finds himself close to Ivar, helping zip him into his outfit.

Steinland more than holds his own as the bold, emotive Ivar, delivering his share of a palpable chemistry when the pair finally allow sparks to fly. The supporting cast around them are similarly strong, particularly Edyta Torhan as Robert’s mother, Maria, who quickly blows his budding new life apart.

Throughout, director Leiv Igor Devold keeps both his actors and the stunning, chilly Norwegian landscapes around them under tight control. Devold and cinematographer Patryk Kin blend the raw beauty of a Scandi noir with the intimate, small-scale intensity of God’s Own Country — a film with which Norwegian Dream shares more than a passing resemblance.

The end result is a film that feels very familiar, but also wonderfully fresh at the same time.

There are few surprises in how Norwegian Dream ends, or how it gets there, but the journey is delightful all the same. Far from a derivative nightmare, Norwegian Dream more than lives up to its name.

Norwegian Dreams plays Friday, Oct. 20 at 5 p.m. at The Eaton.

Live screenings of Reel Affirmations films are Oct. 20 to 22 at the Eaton Hotel, 1201 K St. NW, in Washington, D.C.

Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival, providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29. Of the 43 films, 26 are available only online.

For a full schedule of films, including retrospective showings, all pricing and pass options, and party information, visit

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!