Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Forbrydelser. (2004) Annette K. Olesen

Crystal clear themes of the miraculous and the mundane are lived and grappled with in Annette K. Olesen's dogme certified film from six years ago.

I went looking for Forbrydelser, or In Your Hands, after seeing Trine Dyrholm in DeUsynlige, and remembering her from Festen years ago. The poster above calls it the best Danish film since Festen, and while that shows a lack of a knowledge of many great Danish films over that ten year period, I can somewhat sympathize with that understanding.

I simply loved Forbrydelser. It stands out with Festen and The King is Alive and Italian for Beginners and Open Hearts as one of the better films in the dogme movement -- the kind of film Lars von Trier was looking for when he launched the movement years ago.

And I make no bones about the fact that this is easily my favorite movement in film history.

The story revolves around a fresh-out-of-theology school priestess Anna (wonderfully played by Ann Eleonora Jørgensen), who takes a chaplain position in a local women's prison. There she meets a cast of characters -- junkies, prostitutes, prodigal moms and murderers -- and shines with every ounce of God's compassion and endless love for them all.

It isn't easy, though. When she meets cold, calloused prisoner Kate (Dyrholm, perfect as always), who while addicted to drugs brought about the death of her child, judgmentalism creeps in. With a simple glance Kate tells Anna she is pregnant. Anna and her man have been trying for years; doctors have told them it's just not going to happen. Against her man's feelings, Anna buys a pregnancy test which results in another trip to the doctor. Child murderer Kate let her in on a secret even her body hadn't shared with her yet: she's with child, and is surprised with joy even as she ponders how a child murderer could have known.

She begins to resent the sin-stained prophetess Kate.

Kate shows other signs of miraculous ability, too. There's something transcendent -- perhaps even healing -- in the simple touch of her hands. Though she doesn't even know how to pray, Kate has obviously had an encounter with something from beyond that's left others in hope of a blessing.

While Anna's child grows inside her and we learn that something may be wrong in this pregnancy, Kate's friendships in the prison blossom, causing friction with those at odds with her blessing. Anna's doctor makes her aware that abortion may be the only right alternative, as Kate is pushed into holding back her blessed touch from the women. The two women and how they understand a higher power are somehow linked, and yet both of them avoid each other at first. In persuading Anna to seek out Kate's touch, one of the prisoners tells her: "You're in the same business." But now Anna struggles with a God who won't fully develop her child, and whether it's right to take the life that's now in her hands.

The most interesting aspect for me was in the last few minutes. There is a subtle crescendo, a quiet climax, in which something happens -- a rather bad event -- in which every single character can take their own form of the blame. Guilt is heaped on everyone involved, a guilt Anna has relentlessly already preached against in her teachings: Responsibility is taken for your sin, and guilt should fall by the wayside. It's a great irony at this point, as a final guilt fixes itself on all involved with even more ferocity than the priestess-wrestling-with-abortion issue.

Forbrydelser is the 34th certified dogme film, created for the celebration of dogme's tenth anniversary. Like all good dogmes, it compares class and envy, agnosticism against religiosity, restraint against emotional fervor, and mystery gets the final word. No background music, no special effects, no bells, no whistles, no frills. This is dogme, it's somewhat quiet but as fictitiously real as it gets.


  1. Dear Persona,

    Thanks ever so much for your review of my film. I am always happy to learn, that people find my films and watch them. Even happier when they like them. The making of "In your hands" was an important and very fullfilling experience for me. I am in particullar happy, that you appreciate the way we chose to end the film. Something the producer, my old friend Ib Tardini, and I have had many discussions about.
    All the best,
    Annette K

  2. Thanks for visiting Filmsweep, Annette! I am still looking forward to seeing Little Soldier... My Region 2 player is currently busted or I'd track it down that way... :)


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