Dir. Soren Kragh-Jacobsen. Denmark/Sweden, 2008. 95mins
Now 61, Danish director Soren Kragh-Jacobsen has only made a handful of films in the last thirty years, and while they have done well in Denmark , they haven't left much of a mark elsewhere. The well-known exception was Mifune (1999) which enjoyed the distinction of US distribution. In any case, widely successful or not, all of his films, even those with the most genre elements, have been distinctive products of a unique, auteurist sensibility.
That is not exactly the case in What No One Knows, a very competently made political thriller that seldom rises above the well-worn conventions of the genre. But while theatrical returns outside its home territory should only be lukewarm, it's easy to imagine the film doing very well around the world on DVD and especially on television.
Thomas Deleuran (Berthelson) is a puppeteer, singer, and storyteller whose wife, tired of his drinking and general irresponsibility, is seeking a divorce. One night, at a difficult family dinner, his devoted sister Charlotte (Richter) tells him that she has something important to discuss with him, but that she would prefer to wait until later to talk to him.
The next day, he is informed that Charlotte, a strong swimmer, has drowned while on a short holiday. Suspicious, Thomas undertakes a personal investigation that leads to the uncovering of dark state secrets involving his late father, a former naval intelligence officer. By the time his obsessive search for the truth is over, he has endangered the lives of countless people, including his beloved daughter Bea (Werner) and Charlotte's lover Ursula (Bonnevie).
Kragh-Jacobsen's strong suit is the creation of atmospherics. In this, What No One Knows puts most Hollywood thrillers to shame, even though he is obviously dealing with a much smaller budget. He also knows how to use music well, and the blend of resonant visuals -- a lot of audience-involving, hand-held camera work, a la Paul Greengrass' Bourne Supremacy -- and haunting sound will go a long way toward seducing viewers into liking the film.
He also knows how to tell a story as efficiently as possible, and the result is a well-paced, always-involving narrative. Little technical flourishes such as flash-forwards and flashbacks are used sparingly and to good effect, and in a couple of scenes the director makes clever use of alienating contemporary architecture to enhance the sense of paranoia that gradually but completely overtakes Thomas.
The actors are uniformly attractive, convincing, and competent. Berthelson especially has a sympathetic air and quiet, charismatic power that make up for his average looks, while all the women in the film are notably gorgeous.
Ultimately, however, there's not much here that hasn't been seen elsewhere, and many times over. Kragh-Jacobsen does make a half-hearted effort to develop a more resonant theme relating to the ubiquitous presence of surveillance cameras in Denmark (and, by implication, everywhere else as well), but this Big Brother notion is not exactly super-fresh either.
The Match Factory
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Lars Bredo Rahbek
Anders W. Berthelsen
Sarah Juel Werner