I’m a sucker for films about adult brother-sister relationships, partly because they are so rare. I also happen to like nearly every Mike Leigh film I have seen (especially Secrets & Lies, which is partly about an adult brother-sister relationship!). So it was only natural that one of my favorite films at the Vancouver film festival three years ago would be a Danish comedy (dramedy, perhaps?) called Minor Mishaps, which was written and directed in a Leigh-like manner by Annette K. Oleson and was also partly about grown-up siblings of both genders dealing with various family issues.
Then, last year, I saw Oleson’s newest film, In Your Hands, which should have been even more interesting, as it involved religious issues, yet didn’t quite work for me. As I blurbed at the time:
Then, In Your Hands (Denmark, 101 min.), the new film from Annette K. Olesen, and the newest film to receive a Dogme 95 certificate of authenticity (they still hand those out?). Olesen makes her films Mike Leigh-style, improvising the story with the actors, and if Minor Mishaps was her Secrets & Lies, then In Your Hands is, um, I’m not sure — I haven’t seen Vera Drake yet, for obvious reasons, but since abortion figures prominently in both Olesen’s and Leigh’s new films, I’m tempted to cite that one. Anyway, the film stars Ann Eleonora Jorgensen (the hairdresser in Italian for Beginners) as Anna, a newly-minted minister, fresh out of seminary, whose faith gets put through the wringer after she accepts an assignment as chaplain to a women’s prison. Anna is definitely on the liberal end of the religiometer — she’s a female priest, she has a live-in “boyfriend” (assuming the subtitle translates this word accurately), she says miracles are “metaphors”, she is open to the possibility of abortion — but, rightly or wrongly, I’d assume the film is basically just giving us an accurate portrayal of Danish religion. The other main protagonist here is Kate (Trine Dyrholm), a new inmate who is rarely seen without a cigarette, who is rumoured to have miraculous healing powers (don’t worry, this ain’t The Green Mile), and who has a secret in her past — a secret that could see her ostracized from all the other prisoners. Kate is a very off-putting character at first, and difficult to connect with — the first time she meets Anna, she just stares at her and tells her to be careful with the baby in her womb, a baby that Anna, at that point, doesn’t even know she’s carrying! — but, gradually, Kate begins to reach out and make contact with people, sometimes in fairly normal and even hopeful ways (by asking Anna to teach her how to pray), and sometimes in more dubious ways (by getting emotionally involved with the male officer who accompanies her on trips outside the prison). Alas, things begin to head in a more tragic direction… FWIW, the VIFF program quotes the director as saying: “The opposite of faith is not doubt — the opposite of faith is knowledge. In Your Hands is a story about what happens when trust is more fragile than mistrust, when knowledge is stronger than faith and when pain is more powerful than love.” The film is a mostly sobre affair and could provoke some interesting discussion in forums such as this, and I think I do like it, but definitely not as much as Minor Mishaps, for whatever that’s worth.
Ironically for a film with a priest as its protagonist, In Your Hands feels more like an existentialist drama than a religious one. There is no moralising, the characters have to make their own choices and live with the consequences.
“I’m very happy that you say that,” says Olesen, “because we’re not telling people to go to church. We talked about this film in a very existential way, so you can probably say we’re more related to existentialists than theologians.”
I think I may have to take another look at this film myself, if it should ever return to Vancouver. But to be honest, I’m not especially eager to, right now. Oh, and FWIW, Vera Drake (my review) came to local theatres not long after I wrote that blurb, and it wound up topping my end-of-the-year top ten list.