Queen of Hearts

Anne and Gustav on a bed

 

What to expect of a film with the title Queen of Hearts? Well it stars Trine Dyrholm, an actor who guarantees a certain level of quality. English speaking audiences might remember her for films like Nico, 1988, in which she played the tragic junkie and onetime singer with the Velvet Underground, or alongside Pierce Brosnan in Love Is All You Need, a romantic drama for grown-ups.

She also took a key role in the excellent TV series The Legacy, a tale of poisonous family dynamics, some episodes of which were directed by May el-Toukhy, who’s in charge here too.

Though she can prettty much do it all from high drama to low comedy, Dyrholm’s got a particular set of skills that make her particularly suitable in roles playing smart, devious and conflicted women, which is exactly what we get in this bleak Danish drama.

Life is sweet for Anne (Dyrholm) at the suburban end of the Danish dream. A honeyed existence in a big gorgeous modernist house with husband Peter and their two daughters is disrupted for a while when Gustav (Gustav Lindh), her husband’s son from a previous relationship, turns up from Sweden to live with them. Difficult teenager, his mother can’t cope, it’s dad’s turn to shoulder the burden etc.

Gustav is angry that he’s been sent away and initially unco-operative in the extreme. He’s also a good-looking young man, something Anne notices when she accidentally surpises him just wrapped in a towel after a shower.

Shortly afterwards Anne is peeling off her own clothes in the privacy of her own room to examine her body in the mirror.

What’s obviously going to happen but shouldn’t is that Anne falls for Gustav, though she’s maybe 30 years older than him. And falls badly. Director May el-Toukhy goes into shimmer mode in this part of the film, as Anne blunders around incapacitated by her own infatuation, and composer Jon Ekstrand goes along for the ride with music that’s lilting and beguiling.

And then, unable to sleep one night and with her husband pulling another all-nighter at work, she goes into the boy’s bedroom an… oh dear.

Graphic sex, dear reader, graphic sex. Look away if penises offend.

 

Anne and Gustav in the woods
Not out of the woods: Anne and Gustav

 

I’m not giving away any more of the plot than the publicity shots  have already revealed. In any case, thus far seemed to be on the cards from very early on. It’s only after Anne and Gustav have done the deed that the film really announces what it’s about, as exposure, recrimination and tragedy pile up one on the other, and Dyrholm gets to work through a considerable range of emotions.

Two points of comparison spring to mind. The Mother, which saw Daniel Craig launching into an affair with a much older woman (Anne Reid), though Craig wasn’t playing a minor, and 2012’s The Sessions, in which Helen Hunt similarly exposed acres of middle-aged flesh, as Dyrholm does here – both fine-looking women, for sure, but both in the one-piece rather than bikini stage of life.

It’s a tense film from the get-go, but once it moves into the last half, when the focus shifts almost entirely onto Anne, lying like crazy to keep the show on the road, the whole thing becomes almost unbearably knuckle-whitening.

Though technically this isn’t a film about incest – Anne and Gustav are not blood relatives – it is close, since the sense of a betrayal of trust is the same. Nor is it strictly Oedipal either, though those are the dynamics and that’s what’s so delicately examined in the screenplay by Maren Louise Käehne and el-Toukhy.

Oedipus famously sleeps with his mother and kills his father. Gustav’s dad, Peter, Anne’s husband, is to an extent an absence, both as a parent in the family home – he’s often working – and as a character whose feelings are examined. Perhaps that’s a weakness in the storytelling. If it is, it’s the only one.

 

 

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

 

 

Love Is All You Need

Trine Dyrholm and Pierce Brosnan in Love Is All You Need. Photo: Doane Gregory

 

 

Wedding films can be a bit like wedding cake – lots of layers, too sweet, just enough is already a bit too much, not everyone is a fan. Given those caveats, and with the realisation that for every joyous wedding-themed movie like Bridesmaids there’s a steaming pile such as 27 Dresses, let’s wander up the aisle with director Susanne Bier and her two stars, Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm.

Brosnan plays Philip, the father of the groom, Dyrholm plays Ida, mother of the bride, people who have never met until, at the airport, she manages to reverse her car into his. Ida is a hairdresser recovering from cancer and from the fact that she’s just found her husband shagging his secretary. Philip is a rich widower who’s been living an emotionally detached existence since his wife died.

Meet cute established, they head off to sun-drenched Italy, where his villa has been taken out of mothballs to stage the wedding. It is an ideal space for the movie’s many many characters, and a metaphor for Philip’s dusty, untended heart – this is where he and his wife lived when they first married.

If the plot is strictly romantic pulp fiction – storm-tossed experienced male and smiling innocent female – the leads never let on. Though Brosnan was the most emotional of the 007s, this is still a fair remove from his career of serial suavity. Playing a man negotiating loss, grief, the rebirth of love, insecurity and so on, Brosnan is on unsure ground and does occasionally show it. Dyrholm, new to me, is far more assured, playing a middle-aged woman whose husband has violated her trust just as the cancer surgeon has violated her breasts. Director Susanne Bier even throws in a parody of Venus on a shell at one point, during which the clearly scarred Ida arises majestically from the waves, Dyrholm managing to make her look both scarred and sexy, timid yet defiant. It also helps that Dyrholm has a joyous quick smile that forces the viewer to smile right back at the screen and a gift for light comedy.

Around the story of these two are stacked those of the guests at the wedding party – the bride worried that her future husband has gone off her; the groom wondering if he’s made a mistake; the sister-in-law with the hots for Philip; Ida’s oafish husband, who has broken every rule in the book by bringing his new sexual conquest to the event; the twittery kitchen staff. It’s a nicely rounded ensemble but Paprika Steen (the brassy Benedikte with Philip in her sights) and Kim Bodnia (as the dim libidinous husband, hilarious with almost no material) get the best of it.

The Italy it is set in is the Italy of the movies of busy, jabbering locals, beautiful old villas, sunshine streaming everywhere, warm nights, cicadas. For Susanne Bier, whose line is Nordic films of a certain dourness of cast, it’s a departure. But then again it isn’t. She’s interested in people – with films such as Brothers and Things We Lost in the Fire she has shown an ability to deal with difficult relationships. Here though she’s spiritually in Hollywood and there is the distinct sound of gears being changed as she runs Brosnan and Dyrholm through the moods and the genres – comedy, romance, melodrama. At one point, as Philip and Ida sit in a taxi taking them from the airport to the villa for the first time, Bier even tries a bit of screwball comedy. Thankfully she doesn’t try it for long, neither of her leads seem happy in Bringing Up Baby’s shadow.

A word about the language. Apart from odd moments in Italian, the film is basically in Danish when the Danes are speaking and in English when Brosnan speaks. It takes roughly five seconds to get over this stylistic quirk. At another level, this emotionally satisfying romance aimed at people who know where the film’s title comes from marks another clever step for Brosnan, after the political drama of The Ghost, the action heroics of Seraphim Falls and his wounded bellowing in the musical Mama Mia!, he’s still moving the ball around the park. Who’d have thought the showroom dummy who used to be Remington Steele would be having such an interesting late career?

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Love Is All You Need – at Amazon