Dir:Per Fly. Den. 2005. 105mins.
Adark, controlled moral tragedy, Manslaughter is even more austere, evenmore relentless in its probings of the consequences of our wrong turns, thanPer Fly's previous film, Inheritance. Jesper Christensen, most recentlyseen in The Interpreter, delivers an outstanding performance as anacademic proponent of class resistance forced to live with the shit that hitsthe fan when his theories are put into practice; his bravura, and that of theentire cast, serves to paper over the few moments when the script feelsover-schematic.
Inheritance had a successful arthouserun in many territories, including the US, and Manslaughter should repeat thetrick. In Denmark, the film is holding onto second place behind Madagascarin its third week, with a healthy $1,4m-plus gross. Clearly local audiences'appetite for Lutheran-style tragedies of conscience in the mode of In YourHands or The Accused remains undiminished.
"Ifwe fight for a better society, we have to accept that people will get hurt"says high school teacher Carsten (Christensen) near the beginning of the film.He's talking to his former student Pil (newcomer Beate Bille), a prettyrevolutionary with whom he is having an affair.
Likemany radical theorists, Carsten has never been forced to live with theconsequences of his ideas - but this soon changes when a demonstrative raid onan arms factory by Pil and two other activists goes wrong. A policeman is runover by the activists and killed, and the three are remanded on manslaughtercharges pending a trial, as none of them will reveal who was driving the van atthe time.
There'sa touch of topical national breast-beating in the choice of theme that will nodoubt stir a debate in Denmark: the arms factory is explicitly linked with thewar in Iraq and the subsequent peacekeeping mission, which Denmark is involvedin - in the face of stiff public opposition.
Someviewers will find it difficult to believe that a court in any country wouldacquit three accomplices who refuse to testify simply because it cannot beproven which of them committed the crime. But this plot twist is apparentlybased on a real case that made the news in Denmark, and in any case it would bechurlish not to swallow the narrative pill, as the emotional development of thestory depends on it.
Oneof the subtle things about the script is the way that at first it appears to bean even-handed story about the impact of a crime, and a death, on three people:Carsten, Pil and Lisbeth (Charlotte Fich), the wife of the dead policeman.
Gradually,though, the two women, in very different ways, retreat from the dramaticspotlight, and we realise that this is Carlsten's tragedy, just as Inheritancewas the story of reluctant mogul Christoffer. This is the second time leading manChristenssen has excelled in a Fly movie - the first was as the alcoholicwaster in The Bench, the first part of the "class trilogy" (lower, upperand middle, in that order) which Manslaughter concludes.
Here,we trace the modulation from self-assured mentor to helpless moral wreck onChristenssen's lined, weathered face, which weds the mischievousness of MalcolmMcDowell with the owlish intellect of Samuel Beckett.
HaraldGunnar Paalgard's sombre photography places lowering storm clouds in thebourgeois interiors that cloister Carsten from the social warfare he advocates(though it's difficult to believe that a self-confessed communist intellectualwould live in quite such a cliched suburban home), and depicts prison as aplace of harsh, glaring light.
Fly'sonly false step comes when he abandons his tight neo-realist grip to offer us adream sequence in which a para-gliding Carsten becomes Icarus, who flew tooclose to the sun.
It'snot just the tonal shift that jars here; it's also the fact that Carsten isn'tobviously an Icarus figure. If anything, he's more a Lear: a man destroyed by acombination of fate, pride and bad moral instinct.
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Harald Gunnar Paalgard