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Rose is a film about a woman who’s mentally ill. And if that doesn’t set alarms ringing with you, it does with me. The easy sympathy vote is one reason, the gawp at the afflicted is another. But Rose does neither, probably because its director, Niels Arden Oplev, has based his film on his experiences with his own sister. Possibly also because the superb Sofie Gråbøl plays the lead character, named Inger, just to confuse things a touch.

It’s the story of an institutionalised middle-aged schizophrenic who is plucked out of her safe, cared-for existence one day by her sister Ellen (Lena Maria Christensen) and her sister’s new husband Vagn (Anders W Berthelsen) and taken off on a coach trip to France, which Inger last visited as a bright young thing with her life ahead of her and no cloud of mental disturbance on the horizon.

En route several things become clear. Not everyone on board is OK with Inger being there – hatchet-faced teacher Andreas (Søren Malling) for one, who mutters darkly that Inger should be in an asylum, hidden away from people like him. But others warm to Inger, like Anders’s son Christian, a boy at the age where Inger’s lack of impulse control and social filter are immensely attractive – she talks to him about an ex-boyfriend’s fondness for oral sex and Christian (lovely acting by Luca Reichardt Ben Coker) is delighted.

The ex-boyfriend. It turns out that way in Inger’s past, it was a relationship-gone-wrong with a much older Frenchman that sent her off the mental deep end, and she’s never quite come back. In fact, with the absent long-ago boyfriend acting as a potential golden hoard, the film turns into a crypto-quest drama, though Oplev moves heaven and earth to stop it looking like it shares DNA with Lord of the Rings or anything like that. Is the older French guy Sauron or Gandalf? Are there rings? Of course not. But that’s the shape of the movie, though with motorway rest stops, windy afternoons at a D-Day museum and a touristy whizz through Paris up front.

Brother in law Vagn, Rose and nemesis Andreas on the coach
Brother in law Vagn, Rose and nemesis Andreas on the coach

Physically stooped, face contorted in anguish, Gråbøl, best and probably forever known as Sarah Lund in Forbrydelsen (as the TV show The Killing was known in the original Danish), presents Inger as a woman with an illness, not an illness with a woman. Inger has highs and lows, good days and bad. She sometimes contributes (her ability to speak French comes in handy) and at other times is a straightforward royal pain.

Beneath the remarkably plausible performances, by the entire cast, there’s a lurking question about the treatment of people with schizophrenia, with the war in Inger’s own head externalised in the person of her sister, who believes in drugs only when absolutely necessary and as much stimulating, challenging normal experience as Inger can take. In the other camp the largely absent mother (Karen-Lise Mynster), who is more of the cotton-wool and meds-to-the-max school.

Oplev you might know from the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie, or 2013’s Dead Man Down, but Rose is better than either of those (the only two of his other movies I’ve seen), thanks to the sense of threat that he manages to engender from the first moment and sustain to the last. There’s jaggedness in the shooting style and the soundtrack and it feels as if at any moment Inger might do something stupid, like go crazy with a blunt object or run into traffic. Something.

We’re on her side, in other words, and the side of the good guys – Ellen, Vagn (who turns out to be a rock), Christian and even Christian’s mother (Christiane Gjellerup Koch), plus Illyès Salah as Nadir, a Paris taxi driver who rides to the rescue like someone bearded and magnificent from Tolkien in an emissions-compliant vehicle.

Rose walks a lot of tricky lines boldly and with skill. Even in its final moments – the impossible happy ending – it’s still adding nuance to this thoughtful and also entertaining study of a woman, a family and wider society.

Rose – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2024

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