A-ha: the Movie finds Norway’s synth-pop legends still haunted by the fame dream

Thomas Robsahm’s minor-key music doc traces the story of the trio who made it big with 1985’s Take on Me, and are still seething after all these years.

Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket and Pål Waaktaar-Savoy in A-ha: the Movie (2021)

► A-ha: The Movie is in UK cinemas from 13 May.

Three young men with uniformly fluffy perms pose uncomfortably in front of a red curtain. The one in the centre wears sunglasses and clutches a skateboard, despite the fact that they are clearly indoors. The men are Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket and Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, the members of the Norwegian pop group A-ha. “We posed for all the shoots. No matter how cheesy we thought it was, we turned up,” says keyboardist Furuholmen over a montage of “humiliating” magazine covers that A-ha graced in the mid-1980s. In Thomas Robsahm’s minor-key music documentary, he invites the band, now middle-aged, to reflect on their fame. But just as tragicomic is a photoshoot that takes place in the present day: Robsahm’s camera watches, fly-on-the-wall style, as they stand awkwardly in an abandoned boat house, silently seething at one another and shivering in their leather jackets.

A-ha: the Movie (2021)

The band is still best known for the 1985 smash hit Take on Me and its romantic, rotoscope animated music video by Steven Barron (who also directed Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean). Robsahm plays with the audience’s nostalgia for that video, restaging memories recounted by the group and rendering them as animated 2-D sketches. Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmen grew up 50 yards from one another in an apartment complex in Oslo, becoming friends at the age of 13. Waaktaar-Savoy would write the songs and play lead guitar, with Furuholmen on the keys and, later, the impish Harket as their frontman. As the punk era of the 1970s waned, their shiny synth pop began to emerge as a new sound. The boys – and they were boys back then, still in their teens – travelled to London, lured by a record deal and a slot on Top of the Pops. Warner Brothers signed them in 1983. An extended section tells the story of how Take on Me was constructed, unearthing an eccentric demo version in which the chorus is interrupted by a rooster’s crow.

Robsahm understands that to justify its running time, the film needs to challenge the idea of A-ha as being remembered for and defined by one of their biggest hits. Unfortunately, the period around Take on Me, which saw the band’s fame crest to unmanageable heights, haunts both the film and the individual members. They continue to tour, and to clash, though not dramatically enough to animate the film’s narrative arc. “It was traumatic. I was a guitar player – being a keyboard player was never my dream,” says Furuholmen, still stinging decades later. Time has deepened old wounds instead of healing them.

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