a-ha: The Movie – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Thomas Robsahm, Aslaug Holm
Staring Morten Harket, Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, Magne Furuholmen
In cinemas May 20th
Don’t let the title fool you, this isn’t a biopic. It is more a-ha: The Documentary. It follows the Norwegian trio on tour while reflecting on their unlikely rise to the top as the first major pop stars to come out of Norway. Back in the 80s they achieved global success with their smash hit single Take On Me, helped in no small part by an extremely MTV friendly, ground-breaking video. While their other singles didn’t quite match the 7 million sales of that classic, songs such as Hunting High and Low, The Sun Always Shines on TV, Cry Wolf and the James Bond theme The Living Daylights all helped ensure that they were massively successful for what felt like a fleeting moment but has actually been an almost 40-year career at this stage.
However, behind the teen heartthrob image, there were massive tensions within the band. They were uncomfortable with how they were portrayed, although they admit to playing along with it at the time thinking that if they had the fame, the musical appreciation would follow. Despite their fluffy image, they have always considered themselves to be serious musicians. Also, they also didn’t like each other very much (more specifically Harket and Furuholmen don’t have much time for Waaktaar-Savoy – the most musically intense of the trio). Furuholmen even undertook his 18 months National Service in 1994 to escape the band.
While they may have shared a grotty bedsit and a dream in London in the 80s, it appears the only thing holding them together was ambition and fear of failure. Even their photographer of almost four decades admits that it is difficult to capture images of people who don’t want to be in the same photograph together. The fleeting moments where we see them on stage or at a shoot are the only times we see them as a group here. They are all interviewed individually, and all operate as separate entities that just happen to be part of the machine that is a-ha. Hence we get no cathartic moment where they embrace and make up. Nor do we get heated moments where they go head-to-head on camera. Some Kind of Monster (the Metallica epic that followed them through group therapy) this ain’t.
Instead, we get a straightforward portrait of three individuals who are tied into an almost Faustian pact made when they were in their teens. They continue to tour and the fans continue to show their appreciation but there is a real sense that if tickets no longer sold they wouldn’t really care about winding up the enterprise (well except for Waaktaar-Savoy who remains as committed to the band and creating new music for them as he did in their 80s heyday).
One for the fans or anyone with even a fleeting interest in the dynamics of a successful band, this is an engaging look behind the curtain delivering some harsh truths about garnering success based on heartthrob status. It won’t linger with you like some other music documentaries do but it’s worth a look if only as a chronicle of a group dealing with serious musical differences for four decades and soldiering on regardless.