Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Gråbøl is superb throughout, recognising Inger as a complicated individual who has a lot more going on than just her illness."

There are some illnesses which are tremendously popular in cinema, and some which are avoided like, well, the plague. Unless it’s being used as a tawdry excuse for random violence in a horror film, schizophrenia belongs to the latter group. People affected by it often behave in socially uncomfortable ways, they complicate an escapist belief in fairness and, unlike the silver screen’s beloved cancer victims, they have a narratively inconvenient habit of neither getting better nor politely dying. It is thoroughly refreshing, therefore, to encounter a film with a schizophrenic heroine who was created from an informed perspective, has real agency and even gets a romantic subplot of sorts.

This is all the more satisfying because Inger (Sofie Gråbøl, who gets better with every film) is not one of the many people who are mildly affected by this illness and manage to live fairly normal lives without most people noticing the symptoms. Most of the time, she lives in a care home, getting around in a wheelchair not just due to physical weakness but because the idea of having to walk too far and adding yet more strain to her already difficult life is (understandably) unnerving to her. it’s probable that she also runs out of energy easily because her mother deals with her every expression of stress by recommending that she take more valium. Her sister, Ellen (Lene Maria Christensen) has had just about enough of this, so despite her mother’s objections, she and new husband Vagn (Anders W Berthelsen) decide to leave the wheelchair and the drugs behind and take Inger on a coach trip, all the way from Denmark to Paris.

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This film, which recently premièred at Lighthouse Film Festival, is a deeply personal project for director Niels Arden Oplev (best known in English-speaking countries for Millennium: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), as it’s based on the experience of his sister’s illness. As such, he has an insight not just into how (this type of) schizophrenia can manifest, but how living with it is complicated by others’ prejudices.

In this case, most of the hostility comes from Andreas (Søren Malling), a middle aged man who feels that his family trip is being unreasonably disrupted. He’s a complicated character, however; some of his behaviours, and his wife’s explanation that he likes things ‘just so’, suggest that he may be neurodivergent himself. He’s also clearly under stress due to problems in his marriage, and he’s worried about protecting his soon to turn 13-year-old son Christian (Luca Reichardt Ben Coker). Children, however, are much more inclined to take these things in their stride. Christian is delighted to encounter an adult who swears in front of him and casually discusses sex, and the two strike up a firm friendship. He learns to stand up for himself where his father is concerned, and develops a more adult sense of responsibility, whilst she enjoys his company and, despite her own difficulties, sometimes looks out for him when others are failing to do so.

Set shortly after the death of Princess Diana, the location of whose death Vagn is morbidly keen to visit, the film is also located in time by little details of the Parisian landscape itself, such as the cluster of padlocks weighing down the Pont des Arts. Though it’s largely filtered through tourist eyes and a lot of time is spent in hotels, this portrayal of Paris very effectively captures the reality of the city with its peculiar mixture of elitism and working class warmth. As Inger gradually wakes up from her valium-induced torpor, becoming more and more alive and less afraid that she won’t be able to cope, the city opens up to her. Unlike her fellow tourists, she is fluent in French, and Christian persuades her to tell him one of the reasons why, giving the two of them a mission which nobody else knows about. As we wonder whether it will make or break this still vulnerable woman, we are placed in the same difficult position as her mother and Ellen, who begins to wonder if she did the right thing.

Gråbøl is superb throughout, recognising Inger as a complicated individual who has a lot more going on than just her illness, yet who is constantly burdened by it and forced to plan around it nonetheless. Although Ellen is the central character at the outset, providing an easy introduction for the average viewer, the action is increasingly seen from Inger’s perspective, and her sly sense of humour provides much of the film’s comedy, with some laugh out loud moments. Gråbøl lets us recognise her behaviour, and even her posture, as normal human responses to the tremendous effort which it takes her to do many ordinary things, whilst we also see, at least from time to time, why it’s worth it.

There are almost 700,000 people with schizophrenia in the UK alone – it’s not really very unusual, but it’s badly misunderstood, and films like this are sorely needed to change that. Rose succeeds, however, because it’s not just focused on doing that. It has real specificity, with fully fleshed out characters all of whom have their own journeys to undertake. There is relatively little direct conversation about the sisters’ past but the chemistry between the actors speaks volumes. The performances are solid all round and Oplev neatly captures the distinctive atmosphere of a group tourist venture, that peculiar emotional dynamic involved in hasty bonding between people most of whom will never see each other again. Though it occasionally flirts with feelgood formula, there’s real substance here, and a good deal to enjoy.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2023
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Two sisters join a coach tour from Denmark to Paris, one of them unable to speak French and the other pushed well outside her comfort zone as she struggles to cope with schizophrenia.

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Writer: Niels Arden Oplev

Starring: Sofie Gråbøl, Lene Maria Christensen, Anders W Berthelsen, Søren Malling, Luca Reichardt Ben Coker, Christiane Gjellerup Koch, Illyès Salah

Year: 2022

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: Denmark


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