Silent Heart


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Silent Heart
"The furniture of Bille August's latest drama is comfily familiar - what marks it out is the craftsmanship."

The furniture of Bille August's latest drama is comfily familiar - what marks it out is the craftsmanship. Silent Heart - written by Christian Torpe - hits the beats of emotion and soul-searching with a reliability and quiet insistence that matches the ticking clock which echoes through the home where his film is set.

Family get togethers are rarely smooth in the film world and the tensions of the family unit here are visible even before everyone has arrived at the house of Esther (Ghita Nørby, who with her grey bob looks a ringer for Diane Weist) and her doctor husband (Morten Greenvald). Her highly strung daughter Heidi (Paprika Steen) chats sharply in the car with her mousier husband Michael (Jens Albinus) and son (Oscar Saelan Kalskov), while her younger - and much more fragile - sibling Sanne (Danica Curcic) arrives separately with her stoner boyfriend Dennis (Pilou Asbaek) and promptly tosses her keys in the water surrounding the island they have driven to, just in case she changes her mind.

If that is a gesture of no going back, Esther's plan is considerably more final. In rapid decline due to motor neurone disease, she has decided to go bravely rather than gently into that good night, courtesy of a suicide she has told her family all about. Now they, and her old friend Lisbeth (Vigga Bro) have assembled for a last goodbye.

The problem, as her husband points out, is that Esther doesn't get to "decide how they feel" and August gently probes at this family who are standing on the shores of grief, unsure how - or even if - they will be able to take the plunge. Cracks and fissures are evident but they spring less from dramatic revelations than from the family's hidden fears. Death is difficult to make palatable for an audience but August leavens the proceedings with a surprising amount of humour, much of it springing from slacker Dennis. Despite being branded juvenile by Heidi with vaguely concealed contempt, he is shown to be the one who is able to engage best emotionally with the family, whether through a game of football with Heidi's son or giving Esther her first joint.

August captures the ebb and flow of the moods of the family, remaining non-judgemental even in their most irrational moments. He also captures the way in which adult/child roles can swing back and forth. Weaknesses arise from the sheer number of characters, and Lisbeth and Michael pale against the others, despite fine acting all round. When Lisbeth's character later takes a turn in the family's spotlight, the earlier sketchiness feels like a missed opportunity. It's hard to quibble with a cast this good, however, with Steen's icy sharpness and Curcic's emotional whirlwind contrasting beautifully with the looseness of Asbaek and the quiet determination of Nørby. In our world of ageing populations, August's themes are likely to strike a chord.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2014
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A family gather together to say goodbye to their matriarch who plans to take her own life.

Director: Bille August

Writer: Christian Torpe

Starring: Ghita Nørby, Morten Grunwald, Paprika Steen, Danica Curcic, Jens Albinus, Pilou Asbæk, Vigga Bro, Oskar Sælan Halskov

Year: 2014

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Denmark


SSFF 2014

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