Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Rapace delivers a powerhouse performance that carries it from beginning to end."

After coming to international attention as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace has become highly sought-after as an actress, so British audiences are likely to welcome the chance to see her again here. Curiously, though most actors work hard to avoid being typecast, this character has so much in common with Lisbeth Salander that you might imagine you're watching another take on the same story.

The framing of events is more mundane, but we're once again looking at the survivor of an unhappy childhood, ill at ease with her brutalised mother. Even the actress who plays this character as a child, Tehilla Blad, is the same one who played the young Lisbeth. Yet Leena, our heroine, is very clearly a different person, her emotional distance only temporary, only a reaction to extreme stress. A question is being asked: is it possible to go through this sort of thing and yet go on to enjoy life like anybody else?

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This is the directorial début of Pernilla August whose work with Ingmar Bergman also challenged contemporary notions about women's responses to difficult family situations. It's a claustrophobic piece, the bright lights of a happy family home soon giving way to scenes shot at night in close, ill-lit spaces - rooms full of clutter, hospital corridors, the confines of a car. Seventies décor appropriate to Leena's past keeps cropping up in the present, a reminder of what is haunting her. The camera is often just a bit too close, revealing how hard it is for her to get enough emotional space.

At the start of the film, Leena is a happily married mother of two looking forward to Christmas. She has never talked to her family about her background and they have never asked. A phone call from a hospital changes all that. Her mother is dying. She must go to visit. Stubbornly, the family invite themselves along - it's not clear whether this is simple naivete or whether her husband (played by Rapace's real-life husband Ola Rapace) anticipates her need for him. She certainly doesn't. She has successfully avoided making mental connections between her family past and her family present. She wants to leave the alcoholism and the violence behind. She doesn't want to talk about the little boy beside her in the old photographs. What will happen to her new family if she is forced to remember?

Though the film is short and bleak, the story not very complex and sometimes contrived, Rapace delivers a powerhouse performance that carries it from beginning to end. The supporting cast are all capable but fade by comparison, though Blad enjoys a considerable amount of screen time and shows once again that she's a promising new talent. The simplicity of the film, if anything, contributes to its impact. It's harrowing viewing but well worth the effort.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2011
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A woman's reluctant visit to her dying mother brings up memories of the violent home she grew up in.
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Director: Pernilla August

Writer: Pernilla August, based on the book by Susanna Alakoski.

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Ola Rapace, Outi Mäenpää

Year: 2010

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Sweden


Glasgow 2011

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