Film Review | Parents

Danish actor Christian Tafdrup takes a stab at feature film directing with a thematically resonant but narratively sketchy debut, which juggles worthy themes of nostalgia and ageing within a splintering family dynamic. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
6 June 2016, 8:53am
Søren Malling and Bodil Jørgensen struggle through the ravages of time
Søren Malling and Bodil Jørgensen struggle through the ravages of time
 

When their son, Esben (Anton Honik), moves out to live with his girlfriend, Kjeld (Søren Malling) and Vibeke (Bodil Jørgensen) don’t take the transition too well, with Vibeke in particular being overcome by the new void in their lives.

While hunting for a smaller apartment, Kjeld happily discovers that the couple’s old student pad is up for sale. Knowing full well that the modestly budgeted apartment will be snapped up quickly, they move back in with nary a second thought, and refurnish the place to match the memories of their carefree student days.

But a surreal twist of fate leads their nostalgic reverie to its extreme conclusion… and shoves their entire family dynamic into a disturbing downward spiral.

Tafdrup, working on his own screenplay, is clearly invested in the core themes of the drama, and he gingerly sets them out to play in ways that are by turns melancholic, amusing and disturbing. And while the turn towards complete whimsy – where Elliott Crosset Hove and Miri Ann Beuschel step into the roles to play the couple’s younger selves – would traditionally be played up for its screwball potential, Tafdrup opts to mine a darker vein.

This both intensifies his film and leaves it open to accusations of a tactical misfire. There is a hint of inspired humour in how the couple reacts – or fails to react – to their sudden time-travelling-body-swap, but this is clearly not Tafdrup’s priority. Which is a shame, because humour might have been a less laborious way of putting his themes across, and a strong dour note threatens to compromise an otherwise inspired set up.

That said, the film feels like a debut in ways that don’t just evoke the pejorative associations of the term. In a welcome tonal shift from the standard festival fare that Parents forms a direct part of, there’s a refreshing lack of cynicism at play here, and we are invited to sympathise with the couple from the word go – a sympathy that’s rewarded and not punished (as perhaps fellow Dane Lars Von Trier would have meted out).

The script could have done with another layer of editing to bring out the characters as nuanced individuals – its portrait of the mid-life crisis veers dangerously towards the two-dimensional – but coupled with capable cinematography on the part of Maria von Hausswolff handling the crucial interiors, and delicate performances from Malling and Jørgensen, it makes for a worthwhile, if unsettling, experience.

Parents will be screened today at Pjazza Teatru Rjal at 21:00 and St James Cavalier on June 7 at 17:00, as part of the Valletta Film Festival. For more information and a full programme, log on to: http://www.vallettafilmfestival.com/programme/

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...