29 March 2010

Yohan - The Child Wanderer

The first night of the Norwegian family film «Yohan – The Child Wanderer» took place on Friday 26 March 2010. The film is based on true stories about child wandering in Norway, which mainly took place in the 19th century, but didn’t stop completely before around 1910.

In the early spring every year children were forced to leave their small family farms in Kvinesdal, Hægebostad, Marnardal and Audnedal to work at richer farms eastwards, first of all in the county of Aust-Agder. For the many poor families it meant less children to feed during the summer season and some money on their return.

The children usually met at the local church before starting the long walk, cutting across the many Agder valleys in order to reach their final destination, often covering distances as much as 150-200 kilometres. On the richer farms, the children took care of the animals as shepherds or did ordinary farm work, like stacking hay, cleaning stalls etc.

The main character Yohan is a young boy from the small farm Aamot in Audnedal who is forced to wander to the farm Nome outside Arendal in Aust-Agder county to work as a shepherd. Although built on true stories, the film makes a too romantic picture of the child wanderings, and the manuscript author and director has put too many ingredients into the film, including an impressive number of celebrities as well as of wild animals, like a lynx, a wolverine, numerous wolves and bears as well as foxes. There is no end to how many encounters Yohan has with wolves and especially the bloodthirsty bear which makes the climax of the film. It certainly has entertainment value, but the story should have been tightened up and made more balanced. I had also expected more «driving force» in the movie.

The many young actors, most of them making their first appearances, do reasonably well, but as has been the case in too many Norwegian children movies, have not been taught how to speak clearly. Sometimes it was impossible to hear their lines. No, it has nothing to do with me – my wife is from Mandal and a part of my own family comes from Bjelland (Marnardal) and the surrounding valleys, so I know the South Norwegian dialects well. Maybe subtitles would have been in order?

I have already mentioned the impressive number of celebrities. Did the filmmakers really have to overdo it? The list is almost endless: The Eurovision 2009 winner Alexander Rybak, Aha pop star Morten Harket, the pop star Morten Abel, the model and former pornographic actress Aylar Lie, former Idol star Alejandro Fuentes and yet another artist, Veronica Akselsen. And if that was not enough, former Miss Norway Kathrine Sørland and another former Miss Norway, Lene Egeli, have statist roles. I am not convinced that this is to the film’s advantage. But it must be said that Aylar Lie plays her role as a Roma woman rather well. Veronica Akselsen, who is of Roma ancestry, plays a Roma woman in the movie. Alexander Rybak, however, knows how to play the fiddle, but his acting skills were not that impressive.

The movie has some family connections as well. There is a character in the movie named «Jordmor-Siri» («Siri the midwife») who is played by Veronica Flåt Tjelle. I don’t think the name Siri the midwife is a coincidence. My great-grandfather Søren Larsen Trygsland’s sister Siri, b. 1868, who was married to Søren Røynesdal from Seland, worked as a midwife and became quite an institution in the parishes of Bjelland and Grindheim. The latter is now part of Audnedal municipality, where the fictional Aamot family lived.

Another connection is Jan Thomas Wåge Flatebø, who plays a minor role as the character «Rolf». He is a second cousin once removed to my wife Synnøve. His mother Anne Lise Wåge Flatebø has a role too as the farmer’s wife «Marie».

Yohan is said to be the most expensive children’s film ever made in Norway. An English version of the film has also been made and will be launched in the summer of 2010.




  1. I was wondering if you knew if the movie (English version or not) is to be released in Canada or if it already has where would one find it?

  2. I am afraid I don't know the answer to your question, other than that the English version will be released in the summer of 2010. Maybe you could as the production company, Penelope?


  3. I thought the film was quite badly directed and seemed very disjointed. Many scenes seemed to start abruptly with no apparent continuation from the previous theme. For example, we didn't see any detail as to what happened to Anna while she was sheltering from the rain until she was found feverish in the barn. Also, the rich son and daughter never got the good hiding they deserved, and as for the little kids supposedly standing up to a fully grown bear, well, one has to suspend belief here.

    Overall, the best part of the film by far was the scenery. Norway as shown really looks lovely. But the film was not very well made, in my opinion.