Dir: Paprika Steen.Denmark. 2004. 100 mins
An award-winning presence in a string of Dogme films (Festen, Mifune,Open Hearts etc), actress Paprika Steen takes a very different stylisticapproach in her assured directorial debut. Aftermath is a polished, mournfulexamination of grief distinguished by its careful compositions, deeply feltperformances and rigid avoidance of sentimentality.
Its calm, dispassionate toneis in stark contrast to the sombre intensity of Sean Penn's The CrossingGuard or the warm immediacy of Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room, justtwo of the many films to have covered similar territory.
The film's lack of emotionand a strong dramatic resolution may account for its disappointing box-officeperformance on its release at home earlier this year (around 43,500 admissions)despite strong reviews. An international premiere in competition at KarlovyVary in July should ensure further festival dates and some arthouse sales amongdistributors able to reach an older audience in search of intelligent adultdrama.
Aftermath's emotional maturity might win it comparisons withthe later work of Ingmar Bergman whilst its characterisations and understandingof human nature are on a par with Mike Leigh. Certainly it promises well forany future directorial projects Steen might undertake.
Discretion and subtlety arethe by-words for a film that refuses to spell anything out or wallow in anyemotional self-indulgence. When we first see Britt (Grabol) and Claes(Birkkjaer) we only know that they have suffered some kind of bereavement andare now struggling to survive the aftermath. Estranged by grief, they don'teven appear to be together when they are in the same room.
We subsequently learn thattheir 12 year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. Each has devised adifferent strategy for coping. Social worker Britt has overstepped herprofessional duties by befriending single mother Malene (Christensen) and herangelic baby. Unable to function at work, Claes has started to stalk lonelyestate agent Annette (Mynster), the woman responsible for the accident. Hisintention is to murder her.
Aftermath charts the couple's journey towards reconciliationand the possibility of reclaiming some kind of normal life. It is particularlyperceptive in the way it captures the awkward silences and good intentions ofwell-meaning friends who eventually grow weary of tiptoeing around the couple'sprivate hell.
The lead characters aresympathetically drawn with the boozy, lovelorn Annette surprisingly vulnerabledespite her public facade ofindomitability. Even single mother Malene is given a dignity andcomplexity that might not have been the case in less sensitive hands.
Frequently framingcharacters in sterile settings or in isolation from each other, Steen has the giftof conveying information and feelings without the need for dialogue. Britt'slong, lingering looks at Malene's baby tell us more about her inner turmoilthan any speech.
Prod co: Nordisk Film
Den dist/int'l sales: NordiskFilm
Exec prod: Kim Magnusson
Prod: Thomas Heinesen
Scr: Kim Fupz Aakeson
Cine: Erik Zappon
Prod des: Peter Grant
Ed: Anne Osterud
Music: Nikolaj Steen
Main cast: Sofie Grabol, MichaelBirkkjaer, Soren Pilmark, Lena Endre, Karen-Lise Mynster, Laura Christensen,Lars Brygmann