FilmReview

Film Review: As In Heaven –  London Film Festival 2021  

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Tea Lindeburg

Religion and superstition abound in this quiet, beautiful film from Denmark that slowly grips until its hold is almost unbearable. Set in a single 24 hours at the turn of the nineteenth century, this coming-of-age drama based on a novel by Marie Bregendahl is a fine first feature from Tea Lindeburg.

Lise is about to the leave the rural farm for boarding school. Her father doesn’t believe in education for women, but her mother has set her heart on it, giving her eldest daughter a chance to get away from the house. In preparation for her journey, Lise has already packed her suitcase. But before she departs she still has time to be a girl, to play with her numerous brothers and sisters that swarm within the farm’s buildings and outhouses.

Lise’s mother is about to give birth again. She had a vision during the night that the baby would be a boy. Lise had a vision too – that the sky was raining blood.

Caught between worlds, Lise still wants to play but now, in an action that gestures towards adulthood, wears her mother’s hair clip to keep the hair off her face. The clip becomes a symbol of portending maturity and it’s telling that she loses it twice throughout the day, both when she’s with boys. One is Kristian, a labourer, whose parents have left him to fend for himself; the other is groom Jens Peter, also abandoned by his mother. In an excellent performance by Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl, we can see that Lise is not sure whether to treat these boys as lovers or brothers.

Shot in 16mm, Marcel Zyskind’s cinematography is grainy and earthy, sympathetic to an extended family that is living off the land. Inspired by paintings by Danish artist L.A. Ring, Zyskind uses both a static and a handheld camera to capture the dark interiors, lit by lamps or fires, that are always peopled by family or workers, mostly women who preside over the most feminine of rites, childbirth. The long closing shot of harvest, resembling a Ring landscape, is a sign that life continues.

Zyskind’s camera follows Lindahl along tight corridors and into small rooms, like partners in a dance. Her face is full of despair and then resolution. All the young actors are first class, but Palma Lindeburg Leth as cousin Elsbet is captivating, moving from compassion to flippancy at chilling speed. When Elsbet hugs her own mother, it is the cruellest of actions and Lise can only observe as she begins to understand her world and its blind faith that God knows best.

As In Heaven, of course, derives its title from the Lord’s Prayer, and God’s will is as solid as the crucifixes that are affixed to the walls and as heavy as the Bibles stored in drawers. Lindeburg captures a world that is ordered and prescribed. A world with nowhere to go.

As in Heaven is screening at the London Film Festival.

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