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Review “Ibelin”: Powerful about Mats

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Review “Ibelin”: Powerful about Mats



Premiere in cinemas on Friday 8 March

Norway. 9 years. Director: Benjamin Ree

Med: Mats Steen, Lisette Roovers, Kai Simon Fredriksen, Robert Steen, Trude Steen, Mia Steen

Asbjørn Slettemark is a TV critic for Aftenposten. VGTV is a co-producer on “Ibelin” and VGTV employee Benjamin Ree is directing. VG has therefore asked an external critic to evaluate the film.

When Mats Steen (25) died, his parents found out that he had given them the password to his blog. They posted a message that their son had passed away, and the inbox didn’t stop sending alerts. Warm, beautiful reactions poured in from all over the world.

“Ibelin” tells the touching story of a young, sick boy from Norway who lived an international online life from a wheelchair.

PASSIONATE GAMER: Mats Steen in “Ibelin”. Photo: Media operators / Bjørg Engdahl / Euforia

The Oslo boy Mats was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease which meant that the muscles did not develop. The parents discovered the disease as the little boy grew up and became like other, healthy children.

He tripped on the stairs. The boy couldn’t kick a football. Life ended in a wheelchair while the muscles weathered and the friends flourished physically. Mats’ waking hours were spent on the internet, where he spent more and more time in the game «World of Warcraft». The doctors said he was unlikely to live past twenty.

The parents were worried even though the son obviously thrived in a digital world. When he died, they discovered via the blog post that Mats had lived a rich life online. He had friends. A large circle of other players cared and looked up to Mats. The son had even experienced what his parents most grieved that he would never experience: love.

EXPERIENCED LOVE: Lisette Roover’s and Mats Steen’s avatars in “World Of Warcraft”. Photo: Media operators / Euforia

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The story of Ibelin, which was Mats Steen’s nickname, has been told before. First in one of NRK’s ​​best-read online stories ever in 2019. Later, Robert Steen – who many know as a former city councilor in Oslo and son of Reiulf Steen – wrote the deeply moving family biography “Om natten lyser stjernen”.

It is only natural that Mats Steen’s surprising life has become the documentary “Ibelin”. But can the film add anything to an already established story? “Ibelin” has already been celebrated at American festivals, and the streaming giant Netflix has bought it for viewing at a later date, after the premiere in cinemas in Norway.

The international documentary market can be an almost lawless place where tear-jerking stories are twisted beyond recognition to secure the favor of the algorithm. But the story of Mats is in safe hands with Benjamin Ree.

DOCUMENTARY: Benjamin Ree has directed “Ibelin”. Photo: Kristoffer Kumar / Euforia

The Norwegian director delivered top marks with “The Artist and the Thief”. In “Ibelin” he shows again how he can convey the important elements of a story, while at the same time surprising with simple but clever twists.

“Ibelin” roughly consists of two parts. First we get Mat’s upbringing, which many know from articles and books. Here, the family tells about the disease and its challenges for everyone involved. Halfway through, Benjamin Ree puts this story aside, taking the viewer with him inn in “World of Warcraft”. The filmmakers have animated a separate “World of Warcraft” world based on dialogues from Mats and his friends in the Starlight team. This is supplemented by interviews with fellow players.

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The effect is powerful. Where the article and the book stood on the outside and told about Mats’ extensive online life, we are now drawn inside by Mats’s experiences in the digital world.

CLOSE DIGITAL FRIENDSHIP: Lisette Roovers in “Ibelin”. Photo: Media operators / Euforia

In this way, the film can also go into his ups and downs. “Ibelin” does a thorough job of explaining what “World of Warcraft” did for Mats Steen’s short life. The film thus paints an even deeper portrait of Mats, as we see more of his frustrated, impatient sides. A rich life online is not the same as a simple, carefree life. Even a jovial gang of which the “Starlight” guild Mats was a part of quarreled. Jealousy is not an emotion that only exists in real life.

The film has some weaknesses. In the first part, there is too much repetition of video recordings from family events. It dampens the emotional power of the images. I also wish the family could react a little more during the second half of the film. I catch myself missing Robert Steen’s voice from the biography on several occasions.

TOGETHER ON AN IMPORTANT STORY: Director Ibelin Benjamin Ree, father Robert Steen and producer Ingvil Giske. Photo: Euphoria

When articles about the film are placed side-by-side with reviews of Apple’s new virtual reality images, the whole thing strangely feels like a partially outdated theme. Perhaps that is why the film makes little attempt to discuss the pros and cons of a digital life?

The documentary film format is nevertheless a strong framework for the important story of Mats Steen. It could hardly have been solved in a better way than what Benjamin Ree does in “Ibelin”. Mats Steens is probably now getting a new international audience, ten years after friends from all over the world said their last goodbyes.

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