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Touch Review: COVID-era Dramas Are Now on the Menu

Touch Review: COVID-era Dramas Are Now on the Menu

Many people missed the sense of touch that was denied them during COVID quarantines. Some people, myself included, were relieved that hugs seemed to be canceled, while others feared the barrier created by physical distancing. There are stories of adaptation — “mental hugs,” etc. — but the existential impacts of the period were too much to bear.

This intimate memory inspires the aptly named Icelandic drama To touch. Baltasar Kormákur’s film (Monster) is creating a strangeness. While it’s not the first COVID-era production to reflect the pandemic, and many movies and series have adopted masks etc. as part of their production, it may be the first truly COVID-era period drama. Considering that COVID’s touch isn’t technically over, it’s a bit premature.

The dynamics of COVID’s recent trauma offer snapshots of psychological whiplash To touch. This is unfortunate, because the pandemic-era premise undermines the credibility of a story that’s been told with poignancy and sensitivity.

With the 2020 quarantines just around the corner, widower Kristofer (Egill Ólafsson) boards a plane to London. His daughter keeps calling him on the phone. The people at the airports on both sides of the plane are a little tense. Everyone is waiting for the world to officially shut down, and one can easily recall the atmosphere of unease.

But Kristofer has recently visited the doctor and is waiting for the dementia diagnosis to be detailed at his next appointment. He sees quarantine as a kind of certainty. He is using this last chance to chase a love that got away, no matter where he is stranded in the world.

To touch Kristofer moves between past and present as he retrace his steps in London. In flashback scenes, Kristofer, played by Pálmi Kormákur, returns to his days as an anarchist student at the London School of Economics. To show his classmates that work is not inferior to them, he takes a job washing dishes at a Japanese restaurant called Nippon. He turns out to be very suitable for the job. The owner of the restaurant, Takahashi (Departure’ When Masahiro Motoki (in an unforgettable turn) takes him under his wing, Kristofer learns to cook all sorts of delicate dishes. But, as in all good food movies, things heat up in the kitchen as he develops a relationship with his boss’s daughter, Miko (Kōki Kimura).

Like To touch as they weave back and forth, and Kristofer delves into her memories, it’s clear the pair had a brief affair. Conversations with other people in London, including an impossibly snooty receptionist who gingerly sprays hand sanitizer, position Miko as a woman Kristofer has been chasing his entire life. His quest takes him all across England. He navigates PPE, safe distances (“two metres!”), forehead thermometers, masks, and other COVID precautions to find his loved one.

But with COVID being such a recent memory, and viewers inevitably still practicing some of the same precautions, the period setting feels as bland as a fine wine sipped after a positive test. The chronology of some COVID-safe practices also doesn’t add up, like widespread mask-wearing before global lockdowns in March 2020. What’s more, Kristofer’s pleasure-seeking travels seem counterintuitive to a time when people were barely able to return home. His visit to a long-term care facility to see an old friend also doesn’t match how things were going at the time. We’ve seen too many documentaries about people crying while locked outside their own parents’ facilities. The continuation of hugs, long denied, may underscore that search.

To touch As Kristofer learns more about the past that brought Miko to London, he tries to draw parallels. He discovers that Miko’s father brought her from Hiroshima, while her mother never left and is buried there.

Miko’s mother is revealed to be pregnant when Oppenheimer’s bomb is dropped. Miko and her father do not bring it up and Kristofer learns that she is a woman as the Japanese call her. Hibakusa. It means a person who survived a bombing. The term carries with it a stigma associated with the unknown, with survivors worried about the lasting consequences of exposure. Playing on the fear of closeness, touch and intimacy in the early days of COVID, apart from the circumstances that complicate Kristofer and Miko’s closeness during their stormy relationship, To touch We watch as Kristofer tries to overcome the existing barriers that separate them.

However, the warm emotional glow To touch It resonates powerfully to convey the bond Kristofer needs to repair. The strong chemistry between Kormákur and Kōki makes the flashback scenes a sensory delight. Fans of food movies like Taste of Things You’ll enjoy how the film engages the senses with its attention to food and the intimacy of preparing it and sharing it with a loved one. But food also ties together the film’s cross-cultural sensitivity because it provides a means for people to overcome the prejudices of the time.

Londoners, for example, remain suspicious of their Japanese neighbors and restaurant owners. Kristofer’s landlady (Ruth Sheen) advises him to “be careful” of his Japanese friend, while his classmates at the bar get disapproving looks as they share shots of sake with chants of “kamikaze.” Meanwhile, Kristofer and Takahashi bond over monkfish, which is ugly but delicious — a reminder not to judge by appearances.

Fascinating performances by Kormákur and Kōki envelope To touch with a nostalgic warmth. They add a thrilling final light to Kristofer’s quest in the present, and ensure that the final leg of his journey through Hiroshima is palpably comforting as he pursues the closeness that has been denied him for so long. Kormákur has a particularly compelling, sensitive screen presence.

Meanwhile, director Kormákur may be known for his large-scale dramas Everest, Monster, 2 gunsAnd DriftingBut here it creates a thrilling sense of compassion. COVID-era pitfalls To touch twisting our emotions with a reminder that we take our fleeting relationships for granted so recently. Even viewers who hate hugs in real life can appreciate the film’s radiant embrace.

To touch It hits theaters on July 12.

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