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Sara Johnsen
Norway 2009 / 100’

The lives of young citizens in Oslo mesh at the meeting point of unfulfilled desires, a burdensome feeling of estrangement and an attempt to find one’s own place in the space deprived of identity. Mads, who came back after doing his military service in Afghanistan, tries to plan his life and erase bad memories. An introvert Vietnamese girl, Yanne, seeks love and longs for her brother who was adopted by a different family many years ago. Maria, who works with her and who has left her son in Poland, is like a character taken from a completely different story – she is full of energy and positive attitude. Therefore, she seems interesting to her employer’s son, Axel, who is a snob fed up with life and not capable of defining himself.

Johnsen complements the story of these four people, told in the style of a romantic comedy, with global problems. The title upperdog means ‘keeping the head above the water’ with a constant awareness that you are occupying a lower position though. The film is also a successful portrayal of contemporary Oslo – the city of a socio-cultural mosaic constructed according to the rules of financial status.

Paweł Urbanik


Rouen Nordic FF 2010 – Grand Jury Prize; Amanda Awards 2010 – Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

Sara Johnsen

She was born in 1970 in Oslo. She studied literature, photography and media, which was followed by taking up studies in directing at the Norwegian Film School in Lillehammer, which she graduated from in 2000. She has been awarded numerous prizes for her short films, for instance, in Berlin and Chicago. Also, her first feature film, Kissed by Winter, about a woman facing the trauma after losing her child, was acknowledged both in Norway and abroad. In 2008 Johnsen debuted as a writer by publishing a very well-written novel, White Man.

Selected filmography

2000 Himmelstormeren / In Spite of Ourselves (short)

2001 Hormoner og andre demoner / Hormones and other Demones (short)

2002 Grenseløs kjærlighet / Family (short)

2003 Houdinis hund / Houdini’s Hound (short)

2005 Mroźny pocałunek / Vinterkyss / Kissed by Winter

2009 Upperdog

Prepared by: Paweł Urbanik

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Cast & Crew

director Sara Johnsen
screenplay Sara Johnsen
cinematography John Andreas Andersen
editing Zaklina Stojcevska
music Marcus Paus
cast Mads Sjøgård Pettersen, Agnieszka Grochowska, Hermann Sabado, Bang Chau, Ole Paus, Kjersti Holmen, Yngvild Stæen Grotmol, Birgitte Victoria Svendsen
producer Dirk Decker, Christian Fredrik Martin, Asle Vatn, Michael Eckelt
production Friland AS, Riva Filmproduktion
sales AS Svensk Filmindustri
language Norwegian, English
colouration colour