Dir Annette K. Olesen. Denmark. 2003. 100 mins.
Annette K. Olesen's In Your Hands is the latest Danish film to receive an official Dogme95 certificate, and is the easily the most muscular, in dramatic terms, since the first, Thomas Vinterberg's revelatory family tragedy Festen. In the same big moral vein as 21 Grams or All About My Mother, In Your Hands deals with issues like faith and trust and accountability, and the relevance of the Christian idea of forgiveness in the wake of such an irredeemable act as murder. Olesen and co-writer Kim Fupz Aakeson (a Dogme regular) set out to make a "feelbad movie", and in this they have succeeded. But the downbeat ending is not so much a slap in the face for the audience as a neat and satisfyingly cathartic tragic resolution, and it will not keep the international arthouse crowd away from the film. In Your Hands even has some crossover potential for resilient mainstream audiences - especially parents, who will instinctively relate to the anguish of the two central characters.
Ann Eleonora Jorgensen, who played the romantic hairdresser in Lone Scherfig's hugely successful Dogme comedy Italian For Beginners, is Anna, a recently-graduated theology student who is assigned the temporary job of chaplain in a Danish prison, with special responsibility for the women's block. Also new in the gaol is Kate, a shy young prisoner of few words who may or may not have clairvoyant and healing powers. While attempting to minister to her flock, the happily married Anna discovers that after years of trying and failing, she is finally pregnant. But after a few days of elation, she and her husband Frank discover that there is a risk that the foetus may be malformed: and the solver of moral dilemmas is forced to decide whether or not she should abort.
Of course it niggles us that a Christian pastor would even consider a termination, especially when she has been told by the doctor that the risk is relatively low. But In Your Hands is greater than the sum of its inconsistencies.
With her pleasant face and big toothy grin, Jorgensen has been more associated with comic roles up to now. But sometimes a faint miscasting is an excellent casting decision: in the best improvisational tradition that goes back through Dogme and Mike Leigh to Cassevetes and beyond, we enjoy watching the actor's journey into her character, all the more so because it's a long-distance journey.
Trine Dyrholm (another link with Festen, in which she played the family's chambermaid) is equally good as the dark horse "miracle worker" inmate Kate, reining in just enough to damp down the melodrama that lurks just beneath the surface of the treatment (and which would no doubt be played up to the hilt if Hollywood ever decided to do the remake).
This is also the main contribution of the Dogme lo-fi filmmaking constraints: as in Festen, the absence of distractions like extra lighting or a musical soundtrack pasted on after the event energises the story while taking the edge off the hystrionics. Apart from a few bedroom scenes is which the characters are in semi-darkness, the handheld approach here is not much different from non-Dogme guerrilla-DV films like Bloody Sunday or In This World; there is none of the queasy camerawork that was just one of the reasons why von Trier's The Idiots was such a painful film to watch.
Prod co Zentropa Entertainments6
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Prod Ib Tardini
Exec prod Peter Aalbaek Jensen
Scr Kim Fupz Aakeson, Annette K. Olesen
Cinematography Boje Lomholdt
Ed Molly Malene Stensgaard
Main cast Ann Eleonora Jorgensen, Trine Dyrholm, Nicolaj Kopernikus, Sonja Richter, Lars Ranthe