Festival Films transports us to the Nordic countries with a story that’ll have you squirming in your seats
The context couldn’t be more idyllic. A beautiful couple with two daughters living in a fine house located in a suburban residential area. The husband is a doctor, and they don’t delve much deeper than this. The woman, a lawyer whose work focuses on helping victims of abuse in general. Without a doubt, on the surface and with what we’re given, sensitivity and values consistent therewith.
An immense Trine Dyrholm dominates every scene throughout, even those where she features in the background. From the very get-go, we can attest to the subtlety with which she controls every facet of her life: her elegance when trying to convince her partner at the law firm, how she treats her daughters, and the razor-sharpness she wields in arguments with her husband. The perfect partner, mother and wife that anyone could possibly hope for.
But things are far from perfect and, almost certainly, families can have their unspeakable secrets. And Anne, our queen of hearts here, is no exception to the rule.
Her life, far from appearing perfect in her eyes, feels humdrum. Such is the domain of her environment that the arrival of her stepson into their home immediately presents a challenge. The wayward and troubled teenager ends up living with his estranged father of many years and Anne soon becomes engulfed with envy at the young man’s vitality, youth, and sexuality. So much so, that it doesn’t take long for her to discover exactly the right buttons to press to play and manipulate him. A husband who is both lacking in spontaneity and skill when it comes to fulfilling his ardent wife’s sexual fantasies somewhat sordidly assists in quenching her appetite.
The film’s director, May El-Toukhy, handles the sex scenes masterfully, depicting the body of a middle-aged woman and the enjoyment thereof with authentic naturalness, while managing to avoid resorting to the easy or obscene. A four-handed script produced by May el-Toukhy and Maren Louise Käehne that gets a tip from this hat; even though its palpable who’s running the show in every scene, it’s never actually explicitly shown who power rests with. What they would refer to in art as “showing”, rather than “explaining”.
But everything goes pear-shaped when the harmonious balance surrounding our sovereign queen threatens to crumble. And it’s here that we see, not what I’d call so much the character’s transformation, but instead the duality we all carry within us and show to a greater or lesser extent. We see our sweet Anne trying to keep everything together without tripping up. Applying to each and every member in her realm and just the right amount in each case, what’s needed to put everything neatly back in its place. No spoilers here, but I will say that the audience is invited to read between the lines as to the reason behind an outrageous infidelity. And here again, the grand maestro provides us with the information without breaking it down for us, revealing a woman with strengths and weaknesses, like all the rest of us and humanizing the fatal mistake that pushes Anne to cross every line. Praying Mantis or Queen of Hearts? I’ll leave that up to you.