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A-ha’s True North: A (Dark) Letter from Norway

Despite having given a farewell tour back in 2010, A-ha (or a-ha, as the band prefers) have staged no less than four tours and two studio albums since. Most recently, the Norwegian new wavers played two California venues on their summer 2022 tour (the only U.S. dates), both to perform their breakthrough album Hunting High and Low and prep fans for the release of their latest album and film of the same name, True North.

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Don’t let the creepy “come into my parlor” grimace keep you from watching the trailer. I have no clue who on the A-ha crew decided this was the still that should be used to entice audiences.

Official True North Site

The album, recorded with the Norwegian Arctic Philharmonic in Bodo, Norway, more than 55 miles (90 km) above the Arctic Circle, is the band’s eleventh studio effort. Although there aren’t any standout tracks, the overall production is what you’d expect of a band four decades into its career: unintentionally mellow and trying to recapture the spark that originally put them on the map (think: yellow cocktail electronica). Because it’s A-ha, this is made more palatable thanks to the still-impressive vocal showcasing of frontman Morten Harket.

The film is a different story.

True North is a letter from A-ha, from the Arctic Circle, a poem from the far north of Norway,” keyboardist Magne Furuholmen says early on in the film, which was directed by the band’s longtime photographer and collaborator Stian Andersen.

And a rather dark letter it is. Although the cinematography is undeniably beautiful and features shots of nature — a pod of whales suspended vertically in the water, snow-dusted fjords, Arctic birds diving in the inky ocean — worthy of any National Geographic special, Andersen’s decision to shoot the majority of the footage in such relative darkness would have you believing he was trying to one-up the director of the Battle of Winterfell episode.

Considering one of True North’s main themes is climate change, this decision is questionable. Instead of clear, pristine shots that would enhance an audience’s appreciation of nature, we get muddied visuals of what should be awe-inspiring vistas. While still stunning, they miss the mark. If A-ha’s letter was an attempt to entice visitors to Norway to revive tourism after the pandemic, they should have switched on another lighthouse or two. Or just blast those Northern Lights. The perpetual gloaming would make you think the midnight sun is in force year round.

Title card for the A-ha film "True North"
The opening scene for A-ha’s film “True North”

The film is a cinematic triptych. Woven among the nature scenes are concert footage of the band sans audience and a fictional (and ambiguous) plotline showcasing Norwegian culture, including a funereal boat burning (which wasn’t really a thing). As the trailer mainly showed the latter, I’d expected the film to be a long-form music video and hadn’t anticipated the other two parts, although it was interesting to hear the band members (plus new fourth member, Morten Harket’s man-bun) talk about their home country and their musical process. With a running time of just over an hour (72 minutes), the film wouldn’t have suffered from a few more scenes (but only if someone had invested in a damn floodlight.)

This underlighting oversight was particularly evident in the post-film featurette, whose very first scene revealed that Norway is not Mordor can be indeed be photographed in sharp, bright colors.

Seeing as A-ha has barely played the U.S. since their blockbuster 1984 hit “Take on Me” (one of the few songs with a video to garner more than one billion views on YouTube), it’s not surprising there were a whole eleven people in the theater for the film’s one-night-only showing. But such is a fan’s loyalty that these folks made it out at all.

Despite Andersen forgetting to turn off the Twilight filter, the film contains breathtaking footage that will appeal even to non-fans, although you’d have to be a true A-ha aficionado to appreciate the rest.

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